When planning an important event, you never want a venue that is too big — just in case no one shows up.
If we take David Harns at his word about clean air in Ingham County, the County Republican Party’s tent must be pretty empty these days. Harns’ March 4 City Pulse column in opposition to the Ingham County clean air ordinances is misinformed, ignores the overwhelming amount of scientific health data and disregards that our county’s residents want clean air in bars and restaurants.
Harns’ column asserts that Ingham County’s restaurant and bar proprietors will be shut down by these desperately needed regulations. The ordinance makes common-sense changes in the way new restaurants are constructed and gives business owners a great deal of leeway in how to best protect the health and safety of Ingham County’s workers and families.
In fact, no single business owner testified before the Board of Commissioners in opposition to the ban, sending only paid lobbyists. Rather than shutting down or moving out of the county, as Harns implies, most restaurants and bars will follow the lead of places like Harpers Brewpub in East Lansing (about three miles from the county line) and realize the health and economic benefits of going entirely smoke-free or simply make the easy changes to comply with the law.
As the chairman and vice chairman of the Ingham County Board of Health (an all-volunteer board of concerned citizens) we have seen the irrefutable evidence of the health and safety risks of environmental tobacco smoke. In fact, a 2008 report by Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants found that the health risks of secondhand smoke are “incontrovertible.” The Environmental Protection Agency declared environmental tobacco pollution a Class A carcinogen, identifying over 50 cancer causing chemicals in tobacco smoke. A 2003 study in the journal Tobacco Control found that hospitality industry workers are at 50 percent greater risk of developing cancer while working without protections from environmental tobacco smoke.
But, most important, Harns and the Ingham County Republican Executive Committee ignore the clear desire of Ingham County residents to work and entertain in smoke-free bars and restaurants. A 2002 survey of voters by the Tobacco-Free Michigan Coalition of Ingham County revealed that a majority of workers and families support clean air in bars and restaurants. Ingham County’s state delegation supports a statewide smoking ban and the Ingham Clean Air Ordinance passed the Board of Commissioners with bipartisan support on a 15-1 vote. Ingham County’s workers and families know the economic and health benefits of mitigating the risks environmental tobacco smoke poses to our community. Dr. Maurice Reizen, Dr. Barry Saltman and I all spoke in favor of the ordinance at the Board of Commissioners’ Dec. 9 meeting; however, none of Harns’ dedicated and committed Republican activists could find time to attend and express their views.
In today’s challenging economy, Ingham County’s working families need all the help they can get. Too often, the difference between being able to afford a house payment or grocery bill depends on hospitality industry employees being able to work six or seven days a week. The pernicious health effects of secondhand smoke increases the risks for respiratory and cardiovascular disease, forcing workers to stay home, cutting into business’ profits and forcing once financially secure families to turn to our community for help.
I commend David Harns and the rest of the Ingham County Republican Committee on their pursuit of inclusiveness and openness. But when it comes to protecting the health and safety of Ingham County’s families, David Harns and the vote of the Republican Committee, is, sadly, dead wrong.
(Dr. George Rowan and Donald Wasserman are chairman and vice chairman of the Ingham County Board of Health.)