By David Harris | Flint Journal
April 29, 2010, 9:00AM
Under the new law, only cigar bars, tobacco specialty stores and casinos will be allowed exemptions to the smoking ban.
Jeffrey LaMonde | The Flint Journal – Andrew W. Meadows, 45, of Flint, lights up a cigarette at Paul's Pipe Shop, 647 S. Saginaw in downtown Flint, Wednesday afternoon. After the smoking ban that goes into effect May 1st, places like Paul's Pipe Shop will be one of the few places patrons will still be allowed to smoke in. Under the new law, only cigar bars, tobacco specialty stores and casinos will be allowed exemptions to the smoking ban.
GENESEE COUNTY — Don’t call the cops if you see someone breaking the law by lighting up at a bar or restaurant this weekend — call the health department.
The Genesee County Health Department will be responsible for enforcing the new smoking rules when a statewide ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and workplaces goes into effect at 6 a.m. Saturday.
With just 13 workers available to regulate the ban at the county’s estimated 1,000 bars and restaurants, the health department has lined up nearly 30 volunteers to go undercover looking for smokers.
Nonsmoker Rick Snyder of Linden has doubts about how the law will be enforced.
“To me, it’s just setting up for society to be a bunch of lawbreakers,” said Snyder, 49.
Ann Goldon, health education coordinator for the GCHD, said the health department won’t start making unannounced visits to look for smokers until it receives complaints from patrons about a business.
If complaints continue after the health department talks with the establishment’s manager or owner, Goldon said someone will be sent to look for smokers.
Violators — individuals and businesses — can be fined up to $100 for a first offense and $500 for each additional offense. Repeated violations could cost a business its food service license or draw the attention of the state Liquor Control Commission.
County health officials say they will try to avoid fines and will try to work with the business.
“I anticipate there will be good compliance,” said Mark Valacak, county health officer. “The majority (of business owners) are in favor of the regulations.”
Don Vohwinkle, owner of Gina’s Pizza in Flushing, isn’t among the fans of the law and said he doesn’t like government telling him how to run his business.
“We’ve had quite a few customers that said they’ll be staying home (after the ban),” he said, adding he will comply with the law and expects most people will get used to it.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm in December signed the smoking ban into law to make most workplaces, restaurants and bars smoke-free.
Paul's Pipe Shop
Casinos and pipe shops, such as Paul’s Pipe Shop in Flint, are exempt.
But bowling alleys are not. Galaxy Lanes, 2226 E. Hill Road in Grand Blanc, will look a lot different, said owner Ken Hochstein.
He said he may lose some customers but also may gain more back who enjoy the smoke-free atmosphere.
“I think more people will come back,” he said. “People just can’t sit around and do nothing.”
Jack Kern, owner of Jack’s Place in Flushing, said the effect on his business will be minimal.
“I just don’t see it being a handicap,” he said. “It might take a month or two to adapt.”
Michigan will be the 38th state to add the law, and Goldon said enforcement was not much of a problem in those states.
The health benefits to the general public make the effort well worth it, said Goldon. Secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable deaths, according to the state Department of Community Health.
About 300 establishments in Genesee County have already gone smoke-free, Goldon said.
The law can’t come soon enough for Monte Frick, 45, of Goodrich.
Beginning Saturday, Michigan will become the 38th state to implement a smoking ban. The law prohibits smoking in public places such as restaurants, bars and hotels. Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about the ban.
Q: Where can’t people smoke?
A: Public places, such as an auditorium, arena, theater and concert hall, food-service establishments and place of employment, unless exempted.
Q: Will smoking be allowed in private clubs such as Veterans of Foreign Wars halls?
A: No. If the place has employees and serves food or drink, it is considered a public place.
Q: Can employees or patrons smoke outside a business?
A: Yes, but there is no distance specified in the law for how far someone has to be from a no-smoking area to legally light up, although that distance can be governed by local ordinance in some communities. Genesee County area health officials recommend a smoker be a “reasonable distance” so that second-hand smoke doesn’t drift into the business. The person also must be in an outdoor area where food, drinks or both are not intended to be served or consumed.
Q: Can I smoke on the patio or deck of a bar?
A: No. The deck and other outdoor spaces are considered part of the establishment.
Q: What should businesses and employees do if someone is smoking?
A: Ask them to stop. If they continue to smoke, refuse service and ask them to leave. The state recommends “you communicate this incident with your staff and log it into any tracking mechanism your establishment may have to document your actions.”
Q: Can an individual or business be fined for failure to comply with the law?
A: Violators — individuals and businesses — can be fined up to $100 for a first offense and $500 for each additional offense. An establishment that doesn’t comply could lose its food-service license.
Q: What businesses are exempt?
A: Cigar bars, tobacco specialty retail stores and the gaming floors of some casinos. To allow smoking as a cigar bar, the establishment must make at least 10 percent of its profit from the sale of cigars and from humidors. Even then, customers can only smoke cigars. The law prohibits more cigar bars from opening in the state.
Q: What about a hookah lounge. Can I smoke there?
A: Hookah lounges may allow smoking under the provision of specialty tobacco shops. However, they are not allowed to sell food or drink as a specialty tobacco shop, although snacks from a vending machine are permitted under the law.
Q: Is smoking banned in hotel/motel rooms?
Q: If a business only has a liquor license, does the new law apply?
A: Yes. The business is considered a food-service establishment based on an amendment to the Food Law Act.