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No butts about it in new year, no smoking in public places law

December 30, 2009 - It's been almost 15 years since DJ Sirignano, owner of John's Steak House in Goodrich, responded to a customer survey and banned smoking in his popular eatery.

"According to a survey we took, 85 percent of our customers asked that we ban smoking in our restaurant. Another 15 percent said they would never come back if we went smoke-free," said Sirignano. "At the time I thought it would hurt our business—it was not the case. Most of the 15 percent did come back and actually, it may have helped our business to some extent. More families come in now and the whole reason we did it was on a Friday night, a cloud of smoke was over the crowd—I looked at that and thought, 'that can't be good for anyone, especially since my kids work here."

Sirignano and his local eatery may have been just a little ahead of its time.

Michigan could soon become the 38th state to ban smoking in public places, after the state Senate passed a bill Dec.10 that had been previously approved by the House. Michigan's ban would provide an exemption for casinos and some other businesses. If the governor signs the bill, it will go into effect on May 1.

Senator Deborah Cherry (D), Burton, voted, "yes." The Senate approved the ban by a 24-13 vote, with one lawmaker not voting.

The House approved the measure by a 75-30 vote, with five lawmakers not voting. Local House Representatives James Marleau (R), Lake Orion, voted "yes," Paul Scott (R), Grand Blanc, also voted "yes."

Smokers who light up will be in violation and subject to civil penalties of as much as $100 for the first violation and $500 for subsequent violations. Establishment owners licensed by the state would be required to tell customers they were in violation of the law.

Amy Guirey, owner of The Pub, 411 Mill St., Ortonville is frustrated with the new, upcoming regulations.

"They are allowing casinos to have smoking," said Guirey. "That puts us at a business disadvantage—there will be discrimination lawsuits. But we'll just have to deal with that. Another concern will be enforcement—how are we going to enforce the law? Do we call the deputies to write those that smoke a ticket? Don't our law enforcement have enough to do? I really don't think the law has been thought through completely."

Rocky Hawley, general manager of the Boat Bar, 2000 Ortonville Road, and Bullfrogs, 2225 S. Ortonville Road, has already prepared for the change to non- smoking.

"We discussed enforcement of the ban with the health department," said Hawley. "They can come into our place to see if customers are smoking. Right now, about 80 percent of the patrons that sit at our bar at Bullfrogs smoke. Conversely, 20 percent of those that come to eat, smoke. Per the new regulations there will be no smoking anywhere at Bullfrogs, or the Boat Bar for that matter."

"The Boat Bar I would estimate at least 95 percent of patrons smoke there—it will be more difficult to change there."

Hawley said that after Jan.1 the more than 30 employees, of which 60 percent are smokers, will no longer be able to light up.

"I think it will work out all right. We have a poker league that plays on Monday nights and there's no smoking during the games. It's not been a problem."

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