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Clouded Thinking About Smoking

MitchLet me get this straight. Smoking is bad for you, right? It's bad if you smoke. It's bad if someone smokes around you. It's so bad that Michigan's state government, like others before it, is passing a law against smoking in any public place -- restaurant, office building, shopping mall, museum -- any public place at all.

Except a casino.

Got that?

A casino that harbors gambling -- which is also not good for you -- is an OK place to smoke. Not in the casino restaurant. Not in the casino hotel. Not in what I'd call the "safe" parts of a casino. You can't smoke there.

But on the gaming floor, where you can lose your weekly paycheck in 60 seconds -- there it's OK to light up?

I know. I hear you. It's like saying you can't yell "fire!" except in a public theater. It makes no sense.

Unless you are a casino.

Because just as restaurants don't want to lose business to other restaurants, casinos don't want to lose business to other casinos. And right now, in Michigan -- as in Minnesota, as in Connecticut, as in many other states -- local casinos compete with Indian-owned casinos, which exist on tribal lands.

And are not covered by state laws.

So you have a casino in Detroit that has to do what the state tells it to do. And you have a casino in Mt. Pleasant that doesn't. And you know what that leads to?

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Different places, different laws?

Now, I'm not going to debate the whole Native American question here. There is no doubt what the states and the federal government have granted to Indian lands is small compensation for the upheaval our ancestors caused to their way of life. But there are times where we're either a state or we aren't.

It seems to me if a state decides for the health and well being of its citizens that a law needs to be changed, there should be compliance from all sectors. Otherwise you're not really living in a state, are you? You're living in two different countries.

Everyone agrees the Indian casinos would likely not comply with the no-smoking ban -- not because an ancient tribal reverence for tobacco. They wouldn't comply because they don't have to. And they could make more money by refusing.

Hey. In the competitive world of casinos, who wouldn't want to be the only place where you can still smoke and gamble at the same time?

All this has led to a crazy inequity in this law. Detroit casinos will allow smoking on the gaming floor because otherwise they would lose business to their competitors. But if that is a good enough reason, what about the bars that have to go smoke free? Couldn't they claim they are losing business to non-smoking restaurants, because, once you can't smoke in either place, people who had been coming to their bars to puff and drink will just go to a restaurant to drink?

Whose rights rule the day?

Many people have objected to this law -- even though dozens of states have similar ones. Critics say, "The government is getting into our business too much. They should stop telling us what's good for us and butt out."

That sounds fine. Maybe even noble. But if it were true, we might as well remove all speed limits. That's government, too. Should we just trust that people won't speed and eventually kill somebody?

There is no debate over the dangers of smoking or the dangers of second-hand smoke. This isn't the global warming issue. And the state isn't outlawing smoking altogether. It's saying those who don't smoke are entitled to clear air more than those who want to smoke are entitled to cloud it up. I don't think that's as awful as some say.

But when you make a ridiculous exception because of a duality in your state, there is reason to complain. What's funny is that many people, when Detroit's casinos were first voted in, worried about the effects a vice like gambling could have on the population.

And now, it's the only place you can do two particular vices at the same time.

(C) 2009 BY THE DETROIT FREE PRESS DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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