Local bars challenge ban

by Neil Munshi

Don’t stamp out that cigarette just yet. A group of local bar owners and club owners filed a lawsuit Thursday in Hennepin County to challenge local smoking bans set to begin March 31.

Stub & Herbs owner Sue Jeffers and five organizations announced the filing of the complaint Thursday in Bloomington, Minn.

The group is requesting the court declare the Hennepin County, Minneapolis and Bloomington smoking bans unconstitutional. In the meantime, the group is seeking a temporary restraining order to keep local governments from enforcing the ban.

A Hennepin County District Court judge will hear the request at noon today.

Ryan Pacyga, the group’s attorney, said that his clients decided to file the complaint because the governments are trying to control the use of a legal substance in private establishments. His clients also stand to lose business if the smoking ban is not statewide, he said.

For instance, patrons who wish to smoke indoors can simply go to bars in Ramsey County, he said.

Hennepin County passed the ordinance banning smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants, in October.

Minneapolis City Council member Paul Zerby, Ward 2, who represents the Minneapolis campus and surrounding areas, said the filing was “unfortunate,” but the Minneapolis ban is fair.

“Anybody has the right to bring a suit, but I think that it’s very clear that the ordinance is a reasonable use of the city’s regulatory power,” Zerby said.

One reason the ban was set up was to protect employees from second-hand smoke, Pacyga said. This group believes working in a bar is a conscious choice made by well-informed people, he said.

Zerby said people sometimes don’t have a choice about what jobs they can take. And while people might choose to work in bars, society doesn’t allow for unfettered choice at the risk of one’s health, he said.

Jeffers said she disagrees.

“The city never asked the employees, they never asked the bar owners, they refused to look at the science, they refused to look at the statistics,” she said.

“I guess it’s just about time a little guy started fighting pretty hard, and here I am.”

It’s the small businesses like Stub & Herbs that will be most negatively affected by the ban, Jeffers said.

“The chains have deep pockets; they can afford this,” she said. “We can’t.”

Nick Schinler, bar manager at Sally’s Saloon and Eatery, said he also felt a statewide smoking ban would have made more sense, but his bar is remaining neutral on theissue.

“Our official stance is that we don’t approve of laws being made against (stated) rights,” he said. “But we’re going to cooperate, obviously, and do the best we can to accommodate smokers outside.”

Pacyga said outdoor smoking was an issue for many of the plaintiffs in the case because they either don’t have control of the outdoor facilities or can’t afford to buy or rent them.

Lyons Pub in Minneapolis, the Bloomington VFW, the Bloomington Legion, the Bloomington Eagles and the Bloomington Knights of Columbus are organizations also filing the complaint.