Today – May 1, 2010 – my home state of Michigan becomes smoke-free, joining 38 other states that have already enacted some version of this policy.* Fittingly, the new measure is named for the late Dr. Ron Davis, a tireless supporter of this legislation and a friend to all who care about the public health. Rest in peace, Ron. For me, as for most nonsmokers, this change is cause to celebrate. Starting today, the wait staff of my favorite pizza parlor can go to work every day without being exposed to environmental tobacco smoke as an unavoidable condition of employment. Starting today, I can bring my grandchildren in for a grilled cheese sandwich without worrying about the short- and long-term health effects of just breathing the air around them.
But nonsmokers aren’t the only ones with reason to cheer. If you’re a smoker who’s trying to quit, the new law is your friend. By breaking up the strong association between smoking and alcohol consumption, it ensures that just being in a bar will no longer be a potent cue for smoking. It’s an especially happy development for “weekend smokers” (mostly women) who rarely smoke except in bars, and who now are less likely to progress to regular smoking as a result of intermittent exposure to nicotine. Likewise, recent quitters, their resolve softened by alcohol, will be less likely to be seduced into relapse by seeing others light up and smelling cigarette smoke.
Although confirmed smokers may be less enthusiastic, they, too, stand to benefit from this ban. If you’re a smoker who likes to gather with friends at Happy Hour or drop in for a nightcap but dreads braving the elements just to satisfy the need for nicotine, here is yet another good reason to stop smoking and start living.
Interestingly, even in the context of Michigan’s tattered economy, the above-mentioned pizza parlor has recently undergone remodeling, including installation of a beautiful new polished hardwood bar, and seriously upgraded its menu. Could it be because the place can no longer get away with being just the smoker’s last remaining refuge? Whatever, a good thing just got better.
* In this post I’ve chosen to focus on bars and restaurants, the biggie for most of us, but note that Michigan’s new law, with a few exemptions, prohibits smoking in all enclosed, indoor workplaces.
Cynthia S. Pomerleau, Ph.D., is currently research professor emerita in the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry. From 1985 to 2009 she served as director of the Nicotine Research Laboratory, where much of her research focused on the impact of smoking on women. She is the author of more than a hundred articles and book chapters on smoking and a contributor to the 2001 Surgeon General’s Report on Women and Smoking.