Barb Checket-Hanks

Michigan is very close to becoming one of the many states that do not allow smoking in public places. The Michigan ban would go into effect in May 2010. It’s been passed by both houses, and the governor is in favor of the legislation.

As a nonsmoker, my point of view might rub some smokers the wrong way. But I’ve never enjoyed the way my hair and clothing smells after coming home from a bar, or some other place where there’s been a lot of smoking. And I’ve felt bad for people who work in those environments (though I’m sure some will argue that if their numbers of customers drop due to the ban, they will also suffer a loss of income from tips).

The question of customer and employee loyalty always seems to come up in these debates, and it always seems to be answered by the question of customer mortality. In short, nonsmokers might not go to your bar or casino, but on the other hand, dead people don’t drink or gamble anywhere; nor do they serve drinks.

The Michigan legislature contains some interesting exemptions. One such is for the home office - understandably, because even though it’s a workplace, it’s also within somebody’s home and therefore unenforceable. People’s personal vehicles are also considered unenforceable, even though they might be carrying a load of carpooling coworkers.

Casinos are also off limits for smoking restrictions, because the rule could not be applied to Native American casinos in Michigan - so not having to follow the smoking ban would therefore allow other casinos to maintain a level playing field. This is where I start to question the legislation.

Casinos in other states, like Washington, already offer entirely non-smoking floors. As an acquaintance of mine pointed out, in that environment she could lose her money without feeling like she was burning it. Why not offer incentives for casinos that offer nonsmoking areas? Also, doesn’t allowing smoking in casinos create an uneven playing field with bars? Hypothetically, some smokers would go to lounges within casinos if they really want to be able to smoke and drink in a public place.

One would also wonder what sort of ramifications this could have regarding health care coverage. Whatever form it takes, could there be benefits for businesses that provide non-smoking environments? More to the point, could there be fines or reduced coverage for companies that allow smoking in their establishments? Smokers are known to incur much higher medical costs than the average non-smoking employee, and they need to take more days off.

Even if smoking is allowed in casinos, that doesn’t mean they must allow it. They still could choose to ban smoking, either throughout their establishments or, as in the experience of my acquaintance, in specific areas. Will they? Probably not without some sort of incentive, or disincentive, from their insurer.

There has been a long-running battle between pro-smoking and anti-smoking opponents. Much of the argument is based on whether ventilation and air-cleaning systems are able to remove enough tobacco smoke to create an environment that is clean enough to be safe.

There is no doubt that our industry’s equipment can do a lot towards providing a clean environment. The crux of the problem here is that second-hand tobacco smoke has been identified as a Class A carcinogen, right up there with asbestos and first-hand tobacco smoke. Under that definition, not even the smallest amount is appropriate to be considered “safe.” How much friable asbestos is it OK to breathe?

According to some members of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), any standard written for the application of IAQ equipment in smoking areas would need to identify a permissible emission level (PEL) of second-hand smoke. With second-hand smoke being a Class A carcinogen, the PEL would have to be zero. And because of the nature of that smoke, the only way to achieve zero is for no smoking to be allowed.

Other ASHRAE members disagree with this premise, but I happen to follow the logic. Ventilation and IAQ equipment can do wonderful things, but they can’t change a carcinogen into something safe for human consumption.

Publication date:12/21/2009