By Ian Perrotta
Though it’s just a few weeks away from becoming official, there are still some questions surrounding the statewide smoking ban beginning May 1.
According to the bill, the ban will restrict smoking in public places as well as at public meetings and government agencies. Bars and restaurants will be most notably affected by the law, but because of the legislation’s language, other than a few exceptions even businesses with only one employee are subject to the ban.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the new law relates to its enforcement. Though the bill indicates that a local health department may be authorized to enforce the ban, it does not detail specific enforcement actions or how they would be funded. Hamtramck Police Chief Mark Kalinowski says that at this time there aren’t any enforcement guidelines in place for the city and that it is likely the city’s attorney will need to get involved.
“We’re going to have to watch, wait, and see,” he said.
For employees working in business affected by the ban, they will have to watch, wait and act. The bill states that “a state or local governmental agency or the person who owns, operates, manages, or is in control of a public place shall make a reasonable effort to prohibit individuals from smoking in a public place,” which essentially means that private citizens will be the primary enforcers.
The law requires businesses to conspicuously post no smoking signs at its entrances and in areas that smoking is prohibited, and it mandates that all ashtrays and other smoking paraphernalia be removed from the premises. Employees are expected to inform individuals who are smoking that they are violating the law, and if applicable refuse them service. If they do not comply, they are then obligated to ask them to leave. It is only after a customer refuses the last request that the police can be called for back-up.
Penalties for breaking the law vary based on prior violations. First time offenders can receive a fine of up to $100, with subsequent violations subject to fines of up to $500. In both cases, the charges would be civil and not criminal. And in instances where the ban is not enforced, responsibility lies with the person in charge of the establishment.
For her part, Virginia Szymanski, owner of Jean’s Bar on Jos. Campau, is willing to comply with the law. While she is concerned that there may be a drop-off in business, she says she has no other choice.
“Bar owners are already the target of enough enforcement,” she said. “I don’t want any trouble, so we’ll do what we have to do.”
But not everyone agrees. The owner of Paycheck’s – known by just his nickname, Paycheck – says he thinks the law is unconstitutional.
“It’s a violation of people’s rights,” he says. “People come to the bar for a few hours to enjoy themselves. They should be able to do what they want.”
Jerry Tomberline, 61, agrees with Paycheck. Despite being a non-smoker himself, he is also against the ban.
“It sucks. People should be able to smoke. It’s a personal privilege. Why should the government control our lives?”