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Smoking ban: 2 years later

Alex Doty • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:46 AM

From the local watering hole to a place to enjoy a meal to the workplace, reaction to the state’s two-year-old smoking ban has been mostly positive.

Restaurant compliance

“On the food side, we have not issued any citations for violations of the smoking law,” said Shannon Felgner, spokeswoman for the Ottawa County Health Department. “We have followed up on two complaints with an actual site visit. However, at the visit, there was no evidence to support a violation.”

Smoking was prohibited in most public places in Michigan — any workplace and any food service establishment — beginning in May 2010. The law was enacted as a way to limit people’s exposure to secondhand smoke.

“We are not surprised that no citations have been issued,” Felgner said. “People have a tendency to police themselves.”

Violators of the law face a civil fine of up to $100 for a first offense, and up to $500 for a second or subsequent violation.

While the violation system is mostly triggered by complaints, Ottawa County health inspectors do look for signs of smoking during regular site visits.

“County health inspectors look for compliance during routine food inspections — such as the absence of smoke odor or ashtrays, and so on,” Felgner said. “Overall, it is a complaint-based system. However, if we receive a legitimate complaint, an inspector will make a site visit beyond a regular inspection.”

Compliance on the job

Michigan Department of Community Health clean indoor air specialist Orlando Todd said Ottawa County businesses have also been complying with the smoke-free air law. He said the total number of smoking complaints at businesses in the county since the state law took effect is eight.

“The first year of the law, Ottawa County had five non-food service complaints,” Todd said. “The second year, three.”

Todd said that didn’t surprise him.

“It’s not unusual, because (Ottawa County) passed a ban before the statewide smoking ban took effect,” he noted.

Ottawa County enforced the workplace portion of the law with its own workplace smoking ban beginning in January 2008. On top of the state’s ordinance, the county regulation prohibits smoking within 25 feet of any non-food public or private establishment entrances, any operable window and ventilation system intake, and in business vehicles.

Felgner said that there were no citations during the two years the county enforced its own ordinance.

“Since we already had a local ordinance prohibiting smoking in the workplace, our businesses were already smoke-free,” Felgner said. “They were already complying.”

Smokers react

Despite being a smoker, Barb Swanson of Grand Haven said she likes the state smoking ban.

“I don’t mind it at all because it seems a lot cleaner and it doesn’t smell,” she said. “I don’t go home smelling like smoke, and I don’t smoke at my own home.”

Swanson said she's noticed a big difference in the air of many previously smoking-allowed establishments, and thinks people have grown to accept the limits.

Other smokers say the ban is too restrictive.

Nunica resident Jason Helmer said businesses should bite the bullet and allow people to smoke.

“I think the business owners should pay the fine and just let the smokers do it,” he said.

Helmer said many businesses have suffered as a result of the smoking ban, and local businesses would get more customers if they were to keep smokers happy.

Business reaction

“For the first six months, we had a lot of customers who were upset,” said Bill Peak, owner of the Rendezvous Family Dining restaurant in Grand Haven. “We saw an immediate decline in sales, especially in the third shift.”

However, Peak said business improved as people got used to the ban. He said non-smokers have started coming to the restaurant that may have avoided it before, and smokers have grown accustomed to the new regulations.

“I think that (the smoking ban) has actually helped,” Peak said.

Rendezvous waitress Brea Chaffee said she's also noticed a difference in the past two years. Despite being an occasional smoker, she likes the cleaner air.

“When it first happened, business died down considerably,” she said. “Most of our regular customers are smokers, and every room in our restaurant would be packed during the day (before the ban). ... Now we are busy — busy a lot. Our diehard regulars still come in no matter what.”

Local clubs are also subject to the regulation.

“I think it is going good,” said Dean Nash, secretary of the Grand Haven Eagles. “The air is a lot better and the membership has increased.”

Nash said he's not surprised that the smoking ban is having a positive impact on membership.

“I think a lot of people didn’t like smoking, so they wouldn’t join or come down,” he said. “Even the smokers like it better. I think that everyone likes it.”

A nuisance?

Some businesses, however, are reporting a nuisance associated with the ban — loitering and littering.

Nikki Schroeder, owner of Santo Stefano Del Lago, 12 Washington Ave., said the inside-smoking ban has brought people from downtown bars and restaurants to litter and smoke in the vestibule next to her store. She said there is a sign warning people not to hang out and smoke in the area, but there are still about a half-dozen people who crowd in the area at a time during weekends and at night to take a smoke break.

“It does absolutely no good,” Schroeder said of the sign. “I think smokers should have a place they can go, and that wasn’t thought of when they designed our new downtown.”

To deal with the problem, Schroder said they might invest in some type of gate to keep people from crowding into and littering the vestibule.

Economic impact

A recent report issued by the Michigan Department of Community Health, conducted by the University of Michigan, shows that the smoking ban isn’t having a detrimental impact on business. According to the report, there has been no significant negative effect on sales at bars and restaurants, and monthly Club Keno lottery sales, based on the smoking ban.

The economic analysis was conducted using sales tax collections from Michigan bars and restaurants, as well as from Club Keno sales. The data was evaluated from 2006 to 2011 to see whether sales were lower after the ban took effect than they would have been based on historical trends.

“It is important to note that, while some establishments saw sales fluctuations after the passage of the Dr. Ron Davis Smoke-Free Air Law, bars and restaurants as a whole were not adversely affected,” Michigan Department of Community Health Director James Havemen said.

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