News Release

Health Department of Northwest Michigan
serving Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego Counties
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Health Department launches smokefree restaurant initiative to protect more service industry employees from secondhand smoke

Most work places in the local Health Department’s four-county health district are required to provide smokefree environments to protect their employees from the health hazards of secondhand smoke. That is, except for restaurants and bars. While other states assure smokefree air in all public places, a law unique to Michigan does not permit local communities to regulate smoking in restaurants and bars.

“In a local economy driven by the service industry, restaurant and bar employees should not have to choose between their health and their job,” said Teresa Sington, who coordinates the Health Department’s tobacco control activities in Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. “Even a little secondhand smoke is dangerous. Breathing secondhand smoke for just 20 minutes has substantial, adverse effects on the heart, blood, and blood vessels. Employees who work in restaurants and bars that allow smoking are exposed to secondhand smoke for hours, not minutes.”

Sington said more and more restaurant managers are concerned about the health effects secondhand smoke has on their employees, but that they worry they will lose business if they go smokefree. “With all the misinformation restaurant owners get the from the tobacco industry, I don’t blame anyone in the hospitality industry for worrying about losing business from smokers, especially in our current economy,” she said. “When I work with restaurants, I let them know that restaurants usually increase business after adopting a smokefree air policy. Plus, they save on insurance, cleaning, and maintenance costs. The biggest bonus is protecting employees from the biggest cause of air pollution in the U.S.”

“We’re especially concerned about young women who work in smoke-filled restaurants and bars,” said Joshua Meyerson, MD, Medical Director for the Northwest Michigan Community Health Agency. “Secondhand smoke causes breast cancer in younger, primarily premenopausal women. Since female food and beverage servers are more heavily exposed to secondhand smoke than any other U.S. workers, one in three breast cancer cases among younger waitresses and female bartenders might be caused by being forced to breathe secondhand smoke at work.”

The Health Department is distributing packets of stickers for customers to attach to their restaurant bill from the American Cancer Society. One reads “Thank you for being smokefree” and another says “Please go smokefree! I would come here more often!” Sticker packets are available at no charge at Health Department offices in Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. “This is an easy way for people who enjoy eating and drinking without breathing smoky air to let restaurants know how they feel”, Sington said.

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is the local health department for Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties responsible for promoting physical, social, economic, and environmental conditions that improve health and well-being, prevent illness, disease, and premature death, and eliminating health disparities. For additional information, contact Sington at 231-533-1012.

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