Michigan’s smoking ban efforts may be flaming out

About 60 percent of Michigan’s state lawmakers have voted in favor of banning smoking at restaurants, bars and other public and private workplaces.

Supporters of the ban say they are confident most Michigan residents want to adopt some sort of prohibition, following the lead of at least 30 other states concerned about the health hazards of secondhand smoke.

But with just a few days left in the Michigan Legislature’s 2007-08 session, lawmakers haven’t approved a final version of the ban. Different versions have passed the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House. Political posturing and lobbying from casinos and business groups have left lawmakers unable to reach a compromise.

“It’s a sham,” said Lana Pollack, a former Democratic state senator and the outgoing president of the Michigan Environmental Council. “If 60 percent of the legislators were sincere about their concern for public health, a compromise would be found.”

A bipartisan panel of House and Senate members could make a last-minute effort to resolve differences between two alternative smoking ban proposals this week.

The latest proposal tossed around the Capitol would allow businesses to buy their way out of the ban by purchasing a special permit. Specifics were still developing late last week.

An opt-out plan likely would not satisfy health advocates who want a real smoking ban or restaurant owners who would have to pay an extra fee to continue allowing the use of a legal product. But it may be the only proposal with much chance of passing the lame-duck Legislature, set to wrap up business for the two-year session on Thursday.

“Businesses could make a decision on whether the cost is worth it and the client demand is there,” said Lance Binoniemi, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association.

Binoniemi would prefer no ban be passed at all. He says businesses should be able to continue making their own make decisions about whether they go smoke free based on the marketplace. But of the ban options discussed so far, Binoniemi said, the opt-out plan may be the most fair.

Smoking ban advocates counter the opt-out plan wouldn’t be fair to Michigan residents, who likely still would be stuck with secondhand smoke at restaurants and bars.

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