Smoking ban resistance in the UP!

Cheers to the veterans at American Legion Post 444 in Baraga, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula, who are challenging the state’s smoking ban in court and refusing to comply:

During the next two months, several citizen complaints were filed about the post’s noncompliance, and local health department officials sent notices of violation. Geroux responded with a news release July 16 that described the new law as unconstitutional and un-American.

Further, the exemption for Detroit’s casinos (which was based on their need to compete with American Indian casinos not covered by the state law) is “wildly unfair” to the Baraga post, which lies within a mile, and competes for customers, with two alcohol-serving, smoking-acceptable tribal facilities, Geroux said.

After getting a cease-and-desist order from the health department July 20, the post decided to sue.

I wrote against the Michigan smoking ban for the Detroit Free-Press back in 2008.

[Thanks to Jan for the link.]


UP with Michigan!


I’m headed tonight to Upper Peninsula Michigan. Door to door this trip will require a train, 3 planes, a car, and a boat. I tried to work a dirigible into the route too, but tickets were unavailable. While there I’ll do some blogging, but hopefully most of the time will be spent in lakes, boats, or hammocks, and at night taking in the peak of the Perseids meteor shower under spectacularly clear skies. I’ll be back in Portland late Friday night.


Michigan inches closer to smoking ban

That’s the bad news coming out of Detroit Lansing. The legislature has been wanting to ban smoking for years, the roadblock being debate about which lucky few should be fortunate enough to remain free to set their own smoking policies:

Michigan has moved one step closer to having a statewide, workplace smoking ban with the news that a leading Republican lawmaker has the votes to approve such a bill, the Detroit News reports. The bill would exempt Detroit casinos, cigar bars and tobacco stores from the smoking ban.

I argued against the ban in the Detroit Free-Press last year:

The fight that ensued over this issue in Washington is a telling example. Before our ban was passed, City Councilwoman Carol Schwartz introduced a compromise that would have provided tax breaks to smoke-free businesses, increased fees for those that allow smoking and required smoke-friendly establishments to install expensive ventilation systems.

If the council’s goal had truly been to provide workers with more options, the Schwartz proposal would have done that. But predictably, her sensible compromise was roundly ignored in favor of a citywide ban. The lawmakers in Lansing are taking a similarly excessive approach.

The good news for nonsmoking Michiganders is that business owners are already curtailing smoking in response to consumer preferences, just as they were in Washington before our ban took effect. A glance at the Web site of Michigan Citizens for Smokefree Air reveals 3,500 restaurants in Michigan are smoke-free. As tolerance for tobacco smoke continues to wane, more and more managers will see the benefits of joining them.

A market test of smoking bans
Exemptions and employment revisited
Do smoking bans affect business?


Dashed hopes


“$5.2 million expansion moves ahead at Bell’s Brewery in Comstock Township,” says the headline. Click! The useless details:

The brewery plans to add 15,000 square feet of office space onto its 60,000-square-foot production operation at 8938 Krum Ave.

Office space? That doesn’t help me. We need brewing capacity. I don’t care about your small cubicles, Bell’s, I just want to drink your beer!

Above: The beer garden at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo, MI, where you can get all the brewery’s excellent beers, enjoy a burger, sit outside and maybe enjoy some live music in the great Michigan summer weather. Worth a detour if you’re in the area.


MI smoking ban defeated

Three cheers for deadlock! The Michigan Legislature once again failed to pass a statewide smoking ban. Unfortunately the reasons have nothing to do with respect for business owners, employees, and smokers. The two houses just can’t come to an agreement about whether to ban smoking everywhere or to allow exemptions in casinos, cigar bars, horse tracks, and bingo parlors. It’s a familiar pattern with smoking bans: states carve out exemptions for gambling establishments that bring in millions of dollars in tax revenue while not offering any relief to bar owners who would be similarly affected. Michigan’s lawmakers are divided by those who want to ban smoking everywhere and those who want to hypocritically allow it only in businesses the state has a stake in — a temporary win for liberty, but not one that’s likely to last.

Smoking ban unfair, insulting


We win!

For now, at least. This week Michigan’s long fight over a proposed statewide smoking ban came to a temporary end, with supporters failing to muster enough votes in the House to pass it. Concerns about its impact on state casino tax revenues and smoking related businesses sunk the bill; if passed, it would have banned smoking even in cigar bars and tobacco shops.

My May op/ed in the Detroit Free-Press arguing against the ban garnered more hate mail (and slightly fewer supportive emails) than anything else I’ve ever written. It’s archived behind a pay wall at the Freep site, but reposted here.

[Via The Stogie Guys.]


Michigan’s loss is Colorado’s gain

In my final guest post at Radley’s blog, I wrote:

I was surprised that Michigan’s distilleries are in business at all. The state has one of the highest taxes on distilled products in the country. Misguided ethanol subsidies have enticed farmers to plant corn instead of rye. And on top of all this they have to deal with a distribution system that’s run by a state monopoly and forbids them from selling their products to willing buyers. Opening a distillery in this legal environment sounds crazy, but despite this Michigan has become an improbable leader in micro-distilling.

Those laws have cost Michigan one of its better distilleries. Leopold Brothers, makers of a broad line of craft-distilled spirits, have left Ann Arbor for Colorado. Part of the reason for the move was a rent increase, but Michigan’s restrictive distribution laws were another major factor. As Todd Leopold explained in February:

We would’ve opened in Ypsi in a hearbeat, but the laws governing spirits sales makes it so we couldn’t sell half of our product line at a new bar (our Rum and Whiskeys). To top it off, self-distribution is legal in Colorado, and that make all the difference.

I picked up a bottle of Leopold’s American Small Batch Gin and have really enjoyed it. It’s distilled with an emphasis on botanicals like California oranges and Florida pummelos, and these citrus notes stand out in the taste and aroma. It’s a soft gin, good for a dry martini or even enjoyed neat. I’ve heard good things about their peach liqueur and look forward to trying their new absinthe verte; their French press coffee liqueur sounds especially intriguing, but I haven’t come across it on any shelves yet.

Michigan has slightly liberalized its distribution laws by allowing on-premise sales, but it’s still a control state with extremely high taxes on distilled products. If the government would get out of the way, Michigan could continue to thrive as a center for micro-distilling. And if not, I’m sure less restrictive states like Colorado will be glad to lure away their businesses.


Sweating the hops shortage

Sighted at Bell's

Hops in deodorant? They’re an essential ingredient in Tom’s of Maine’s products:

Unpleasant odor is caused by skin bacteria when we sweat. The “bitter principles” that help hops to preserve beer also, it turns out, fight odor. Hops inhibits the growth of bacteria by causing leakage in the bacterial cell membrane, which impairs bacterial function and therefore prevents odor.

I wonder if they’ve been hit by the hops shortage too, and how beer could be made instead with all the hops people are rubbing into their armpits.

[Via Rob Kasper. Photo from the hops case at the Bell’s Brewery General Store and Eccentric Cafe, which you should definitely visit if you’re ever in Kalamazoo.]


The fast and the… ?

I’m in Chicago, catching up from a long drive down from the UP yesterday that included stops at Grand Traverse Distillery and the Bell’s Brewery Eccentric Cafe, so no morning links yet. As I move further west the “morning” part of those links is going to become less and less relevant to this blog’s primarily East Coast readership, so I’ll probably be dropping the AM part of the headline anyway.

I need to get out of Chicago before this happens:

Fast and the Furriest


Why I love Michigan

My kind of store!

OK, this isn’t really why I love Michigan, but how could I not stop at this place? They make all their own jerky, available in barrels throughout the store. Walk around and the owners are will snip off samples while you browse. They do beef, pork, turkey, and wild game like alligator, elk, and antelope (which was pretty good). Shelves of hot sauces line the wall. If you’re passing through Dundee, MI, it’s right off the highway. They also sell online.


MxMo in the UP, eh?


One of the casualties of my move west was my fairly extensive home bar. There’s only so much that can fit into my car and all those bottles, alas, didn’t make the cut. They’re all either given to friends who helped me move or put into storage. So if you can find my storage locker in Virginia and break the lock, you can have a hell of a party on me.

Because of this I was a little worried about the upcoming Mixology Monday. I have almost nothing on me and the only nearby liquor store in my present location of Upper Peninsula Michigan doesn’t offer much besides bad gin, Canadian whiskey, and a tiny selection of other basic spirits. Luckily, this month’s MxMo happens to be perfectly tailored to my situation. Kevin at Save the Drinkers chose the theme of “local flavor” to guide our mixing:

Option 1: Gather ingredients that are representative of the culture/geography/tackiness of your respective cities and make a drink with a truly place-based style. For example, huckleberries are native to the geographical area where I live, as are elderflowers, potatoes, and extremely conservative, closet-case politicians. (I’m just saying!)

Option 2: Dig up an old drink that came from your city and revive it! If you can find the original bar, that would be even more interesting.

I don’t know of any cocktails created in Cederville or Hessel, so option 1 it is. The first step was to find the starting spirit, and this is one case in which the local liquor store came through for me: True North vodka from the new Grand Traverse Distillery. It’s not quite Upper Peninsula, but Traverse City is close enough, and with each batch pot distilled from locally-grown rye I couldn’t say no. While I’m not a vodka enthusiast, this one retains enough of its character that I’d happily drink it straight on the rocks. A good find.

This being cherry country, True North also makes a vodka flavored with “cherry essence and a hint of chocolate,” so I picked up a bottle of that too. It tastes a bit too medicinal for me on its own, but the flavors are well-balanced.

So now we’re up to two Northern Michigan ingredients, but I wanted to make this even more local. The next step was to wander around our cottage plucking leaves off of trees, taking in their aromas, and figuring out what would go best in a cocktail. Spruce narrowly beat out balsam for the strongest and most enticing scent, so I cut off a few of sprigs and brought them inside for an infusion. I trimmed the needles into a bowl, poured in a sample amount of vodka, and let it sit over night.

The result? Very strong, true spruce flavor and aroma. Enough so that I repeated the process and sacrificed half the bottle of True North to another batch and after several experiments landed on the following Yoopertini. (As much as I hate the trend of tacking “-tini” onto whatever foul concoction pops into a bartender’s head, since this drink is actually derived from a classic martini I’m making an exception.) Here’s how it goes:

1.5 oz True North spruce-infused vodka
3/4 oz True North cherry vodka
3/4 oz dry vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a martini glass. No, the Cedarville liquor store doesn’t carry orange bitters. Those were one of the few things I packed. Vermouth and orange bitters aren’t locally made, but with the vodkas and the spruce we have three purely local ingredients. It’s not, perhaps, the best drink I could make with spruce vodka and a full bar to work with, but it’s still pretty good and it aptly captures the taste of Northern Michigan in the summer.

Added bonus: After drinking several variations on this, I realized it would probably be a good idea to make sure that there’s nothing toxic about spruce trees. Turns out that the shoots of many spruces are a source of vitamin C and that Captain Cook used spruce beer to protect his crew against scurvy. So between this drink and homemade tonic water, I’m warding off all kinds of diseases that I have virtually no chance of catching anyway. To health!


Say yes! To M!ch!gan coffee!

Capp at Ugly Mug in Ypsilanti

That’s from Ugly Mug Cafe in Ypsilanti, MI. They roast their own beans, pull shots on a two-group Synesso, and are currently playing Dear Catastrophe Waitress. It’s like I never left DC! Between the coffee wastelands of Columbus and Cedarville, I’m glad to have found the place. The espresso is sweet, the capp smooth, and the barista happy to talk coffee. Thanks, EspressoMap.

I’ll be in the UP by evening. Not sure if I’ll have cell access while up there, but I’m told that we do have wi-fi now, so I should be able to get back to the regularly scheduled blogging.

Back to the road…


No smokie, no pokie

Apparently the smoking ban in New South Wales is turning away more casino business than the government anticipated, leading to a shortfall of tax revenue:

Clubs alone have lost about $400 million in revenue over the last 12 months, largely because of drops in poker machine revenue.

Comparisons between budget statements 2007-08 and 2008-09 reveal Treasury estimated they would receive $1061 million in pokie taxes, but instead received $1006 million – a shortfall of $55 million.

The latest budget shows that Treasury does not expect clubs and hotels to pick up again until 2010-11.

By comparison, Star City – where smoking is still permitted in the high rollers’ room – collected about $8 million more in pokie revenue than predicted in this year’s budget.

This is exactly why here in the US we have Iowa hypocritically exempting casinos from its new smoking ban, with Michigan possibly poised to do the same. When smoking dependent businesses lose revenue, well that’s just too bad. But when the state risks losing taxes, it’s happy to give itself a competitive advantage.


A simple point

My op/ed yesterday generated nearly 200 comments on the Free Press website and brought a lot of email my way. Reading over the feedback, I’m struck by how many people fail to grasp a simple point: the fact that long-term exposure to secondhand smoke is risky does not lead automatically to the conclusion that we ought to ban smoking. Instead we could let the market take its course or we could provide other incentives such as tax breaks to increase the number of smokefree businesses. Unfortunately, even suggesting moderate measures that respect the rights of smokers brings in hate mail like this:


It is unfortunate that you and your fellow “butt” heads find tobacco “aromatic and enjoyable.” You represent the selfish and smelly “ash” holes that pollute the air that we all inhale. We non-smokers are tired of self centered, miscreant pigs blowing carcinogens in our faces. You better get accustomed to having your habit extinguished in more and more states, as science, and civilization advances forward. Through the rule of law, and attrition from cancer, rude and foul smelling puffers, such as your self are gradually becoming extinct. Why don’t you move to where smoking is on the increase, like to a third world country, and smoke your black and nasty lungs out. Since you cannot support your position with any solid research, may I suggest you keep your biased and antiquated opinions to yourself. By the way, you are a poor writer, you might wish to take a remedial writing course or two.

Enjoy your bouts with emphysema, heart disease, and eventually cancer.

Not all of the opposing writers have been that hateful in tone, but they almost all miss this simple point. Thankfully, a few people get it:

Dear Mr. Grier,

Not long ago, Holland, which is where we live, appeared at the top of a list of Michigan cities in the number of smoke-free dining and entertainment options available. We’ve been here for all the sorting-out involved and it’s been handled admirably without the force of law. In virtually every case, bars and restaurants have come down in a place that makes sense for their function, clientele, owners, and location. No anti-smoking legislation could have made it work better.

Then there’s this: tobacco use is still legal. And we are still adults! Thanks so much for your column, and for writing it so well that it actually got into print.