12 violations issued in Washtenaw County during first year of state's workplace smoking ban
Cooks smoking in the kitchen, a patron smoking outdoors at an ice cream parlor and customers lighting up in bars were among the incidents that prompted 17 complaints to the Washtenaw County Health Department in the first year of Michigan’s workplace smoking ban.
During the same time period, the Health Department found that 12 restaurants or bars violated the ban. The department resolved the violations by talking to owners and managers about the ban, asking them to post signs and remove ashtrays where smoking had occurred and educate employees about enforcement.
File photo | AnnArbor.com
Most of the complaints to the Health Department involved patrons smoking at a restaurant or bar’s outdoor areas where food was being served, she said.
“Some other states allow smoking on outdoor patios, so this was a bit of an educational piece when the law was enacted for both the public and the restaurant operators,” she said.
Under the law, smoking is not allowed indoors at restaurants or bars. It's also banned in outdoor areas like rooftops or patios where patrons receive service for food, beverages or both.
The Health Department investigates with a visit to the site after it receives a complaint; inspectors have to observe smoking during the visit to issue a violation.
Refusing to comply with the ban could result in an office conference at the Health Department, which carries a $122 fee. In a worst-case scenario, the Health Department can issue a cease order.
“Would we shut a restaurant down because an employee was caught smoking in the kitchen? No,” she said. “It has to be pretty egregious for us to tell them to stop operating.”
Schweighoefer said it’s hard for her to picture that happening in Washtenaw County.
The Health Department did not issue any fines or revoke any business licenses since the law went into effect.
“Overall, restaurant operators have tried very hard to comply with the provisions of the law,” she said.
Complaints were highest in the year after the May 1, 2010, law went into effect. Since the law's 1-year anniversary, there have only been two additional complaints, Schweighoefer said.
Some establishments received numerous complaints, a review of Health Department records shows.
The Fraternal Order of the Eagles, 2935 Holmes Road in Ypsilanti, received multiple complaints during the first year of the smoking ban, records show. Health inspectors visited several times but never observed smoking on the premises.
The Health Department suspected a dispute between customers and management was behind numerous anonymous complaints filed against the establishment, records show.
Guy Hollerin’s at Holiday Inn North, 3600 Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor, received a complaint in August 2010 about patrons smoking outdoors in the deck area and volleyball court tables during a Friday night volleyball league.
The Health Department issued a violation for a lack of signage. It told the restaurant to post “No smoking” signs in these areas, and that employees must tell customers to stop smoking if they observe it. The establishment also needed to post a “No food or beverage sign" in a designated smoking area in front of the building, records indicate.
Smoking in the kitchen at Dexter’s Lighthouse Cafe, 8124 Main Street, prompted a January complaint. An email to the Health Department says cooks routinely smoke in the food preparation and cooking areas. The Health Department confirmed the behavior in January 2011 but did not issue a violation under the smoking ban, records indicate. The restaurant closed in February.
The ban applies to all workplaces, not just bars and restaurants, with few exceptions. Four violations were issued at places of business besides restaurants and bars in the ban’s first year of operation in Washtenaw County, said Orlando Todd, a departmental specialist with tobacco section of the Michigan Department of Community Health.
Complaints regarding the smoking ban can be directed to 734-222-3800. Complaint forms are also available online.