For businesses, new smoking ban leaves many questions

Even as Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a smoking ban into law, local bar owners continue to seek answers on what exactly the new regulations mean for their businesses.

At the Military Street Music Café, 1102 Military St., owner Steve Pastewski said he is unsure whether the new law will allow patrons to light up on the bar’s three-year-old, $25,000 deck he built in anticipation of a smoking ban.

“Right now, I think it is wait-and-see,” he said. “I don’t know anything (about specifics of the bill). I’m not trying to get too excited about it. Hopefully they’ll be lenient on some things.”

Experts say he will not be able to allow smoking on the deck, even though smoking-will-be-prohibited is not specifically mentioned in the new law.

The state House and Senate passed a smoking ban last week, and Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed it into law Friday. Businesses must be smoke-free starting May 1.

In the meantime, local bars are trying to figure out what the ban means for them.

At the Vintage Tavern, 103 Michigan St. in Port Huron, owner Jeff Payton said he doesn’t yet know what he’ll do with the smoking room inside the business.

The room, blocked off by walls to the rest of the tavern, provides a haven for smokers while providing a smoke-free environment for other bar patrons.

Now, Payton says he might seek a cigar-store license — where people still are allowed to smoke — or turn the room into a private dining area, depending on what the law allows.

At Junction Buoy On The River, 1415 River Road in Marysville, owner Kim Roberts said when smoking is prohibited at her bar and deck, she plans to create a smoking area outside, perhaps with a roof.

“I will probably find some way to have a designated smoking area,” she said. “I’m going to find a way for those smokers.”

But even then, Roberts said she is unsure what is allowed or prohibited under the soon-to-be law.

“I’ve been trying to find that out,” she said. “But for me to read the bill, I don’t know if I’ll be able to decipher that properly.”

Andy Deloney, the vice president of public affairs for the Michigan Restaurant Association, said he fears unequal enforcement and confusion about what is allowed.

He said the state’s 54 health departments will interpret and enforce the law differently.

“The law is pretty clear about what it requires for this and what it requires for that,” Deloney said. “But the law gets misread.

“There is so much confusion out there about this.

“We are already hearing things from local health departments that it is or isn’t allowed,” he added. “This is creating headaches.”

Deloney said health departments that are underfunded or understaffed could provide lax enforcement.

“This is what happens in all other states where a ban has passed,” he said. “Most people will know that place where it is wink-wink, nod-nod.”

Smokers, too, are wondering what the law will mean.

Port Huron Township’s Ed Sturdevant, 63, said he’s been smoking off and on for about 40 years. He’s trying to quit after spending time in the hospital last week.

He said the laws are too vague for now and that a public workplace can be defined any number of ways.

“The term public place needs a lot more clarification,” he said. “A city park, for example, is a public place. You can’t smoke at a family reunion?

“If you’re coming out of the mall and going across the parking lot, are you going to get nailed by a security guard? It strikes me that this is going to be a bureaucratic nightmare.”

But others don’t see the bill as a problem.

Susan Schechter, director of advocacy in Michigan for the American Lung Association, said “I see the statute as being pretty clear.”

“There is going to be enough education before (it takes effect) that this is the law. And most of us are law-abiding citizens: if there is a law, we are going to follow it.”

Sue Amato, spokeswoman for the St. Clair County Health Department, said residents can file complaints with the department if they see a bar breaking the law.

“Our department will investigate and work with the business to bring them into compliance,” she said in an e-mail.

“We do not see concerns at this time, but as it goes into effect, if they do arise, we’ll address them. This is a giant positive step forward for the health of Michigan residents.”
By STEPHEN TAIT,
December 19, 2009

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