City Not Blowing Smoke On Ban

October 20, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Business and building owners within the city of Grand Rapids have one year to create an anti-smoking policy for the workplace and surrounding property, and circulate that policy to every employee and tenant — or face a civil penalty.

Restaurants, bars, hotel and motel rooms, private residences and tobacco shops aren’t covered by the new regulations.

City commissioners ratified an anti-smoking policy last week by creating what the city calls the Indoor Clean Air Ordinance; it goes into effect next October.

“There will be enforcement. We will enforce it,” said Mayor George Heartwell, who led the drive for the ordinance’s passage.

But City Manager Kurt Kimball said he didn’t want to “burden” city police with checking on smoking violations, so enforcement won’t come from that department. Kimball initially thought the city’s Environmental Protection Services staff could handle the task. But the department only has two employees; both are paid by a state grant and their duties are already defined.

So about 10 code compliance officers from the Neighborhood Improvement Group will investigate any smoking complaints the city receives. Kimball said he didn’t think they would be devoting more than 5 percent of their work days to enforcing the ordinance.

Heartwell said he was looking into securing state dollars to fund the enforcement effort, possibly from the tobacco settlement money the state receives. But 2nd Ward Commissioner Rick Tormala said it wasn’t a good idea for the city to rely on the state for any money.

“Penalties would have to be in place before it goes into effect,” said Elizabeth White, a member of the city’s legal staff.

White said violators would be fined but the citation would not include jail time. The city needs to determine the amount of the fines, which will likely increase for repeat violations.

Enforcement will be complaint driven. The ordinance will not protect the identity of someone who files a grievance with the city for an alleged smoking violation at a worksite. But the city will investigate a complaint that is made anonymously.

The ordinance bans smoking in most enclosed public or private worksites or public places in the city. It requires employers to adopt a written policy banning smoking indoors and to distribute it to every employee. The policy also has to prohibit smoking outdoors within 10 feet of entrances, windows, or a ventilation system. And “no smoking” signs have to be posted in every building that falls under the ordinance.

Heartwell was joined by commissioners Roy Schmidt, Rosalynn Bliss and Elias Lumpkins in voting for the ordinance. All said it would improve the health of residents by reducing the level of second-hand smoke in the workplace.

Commissioners James Jendrasiak and Rick Tormala voted against the regulation. Tormala didn’t believe the city could properly enforce it. He also said the city didn’t gather enough information to determine what effect the ordinance would have in the long run.

“We don’t know how the private sector will react,” he said.

Jendrasiak said the ordinance was inadequate and discriminatory. He said the Indoor Clean Air Ordinance doesn’t include the carcinogens and pollutants that are released from the motorcycles, trucks and fireworks shows held inside Van Andel Arena and the auto races that are run inside DeVos Place. Instead, he said, it only targets smokers.

“This ordinance is discriminatory and it doesn’t protect people in the workplace, both public and private,” said Jendrasiak.

Commissioner James White was absent from the meeting. But he said at an earlier meeting he favored the ordinance and that it was well-written.

Attorney Elizabeth White said the Smokefree Air for Everyone Coalition reported that 15 counties and two cities in Michigan have adopted similar regulations, and a total of three citations have been issued under those 17 provisions.

Kent County Commission Chairman Roger Morgan has already said the county doesn’t intend to take the matter up anytime soon. But at least one city commissioner believes the reach of the local ordinance can be extended.

“I think we can convince the county to go along [with the ordinance],” said Lumpkins. “I’ve given some information to the chairman.”    

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