Commissioners bucked a national trend this week when they rejected a pitch to outlaw smoking in all workplaces.
It was bad enough that the mid-Michigan county’s board, in a 5-2 vote, swallowed the illogical argument that smokers have a greater right to light up than nonsmokers have to breathe clean air.
Worse, the Gratiot County board’s decision will kill workplace smoking bans in two neighboring counties, Montcalm to the west and Clinton to the south. The Mid-Michigan District Health Department proposed the smoke-free workplace rules, similar to ones approved in Saginaw and Midland counties last year. The health department already received the tentative approval of commissioners in the other two counties it serves. They won’t go into effect now in any of the counties.
Eventually, the rights of nonsmokers to breathe smoke-free air in public will prevail, whether it comes through the foresight of local officials or by legislative fiat in Lansing. State lawmakers are renewing a push that would ban smoking in workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Michigan law now forbids counties and cities from banning smoking at eateries and taverns.
The evidence is overwhelming that secondhand smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer and increases other risks of illness. Several counties in Michigan, including Midland and Saginaw, have banned smoking in workplaces, excluding bars and restaurants. Twenty-six states now forbid smoking in bars, restaurants or workplaces. Cities such as Chicago and New York also have imposed smoking bans in restaurants and bars, with little economic impact.
Gratiot County officials may not want to protect the public from the dangers of secondhand smoke at work, but the tide is clearly turning. It’s a shame, however, that in the meantime workers in two other counties will continue to suffer as a result of their neighbor’s lack of foresight on this health issue.
Meanwhile, officials in Montcalm and Clinton counties need to exercise their independence and compassion and enact separate workplace smoking bans.