St. Paul council to consider smoking ban

The St. Paul City Council will hold a hearing on the issue today.

Lacey Crisp

The fight over smoking will heat up later this month as St. Paul reconsiders a ban on smoking in some businesses.

The St. Paul City Council will hold a hearing on the issue today. The council is likely to vote on a citywide smoking ban Aug. 25.

Council members have the option of voting on a ban identical to the one passed last month in Minneapolis or a limited ban similar to the three-year-old Olmstead County Ban.

“Olmstead County officials have told me if they had to do it over today, they would apply a tougher ban,” said St. Paul City Council member David Thune, Ward 3. “Why should we go backwards and implement their old ban?”

Thune, who introduced the smoking ban in the council, said he is disappointed in Ramsey County officials because they are proposing a limited ban. That compromised bill would allow smoking in bars and would require the county commissioners to reconsider the issue in two years.

Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, yet teen smoking is on the rise again among 18-to 25-year-olds in 2004, according to The Minnesota Adolescent Community Cohort Study. The study has followed a group of teenagers from Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas and the Michigan Upper Peninsula for the last three years.

City councils in Minneapolis and Bloomington, Minn., recently passed smoking bans in all bars and restaurants. Officials in Hennepin County will probably vote on the issue Sept. 14, Thune said.

“It would be a huge setback if we don’t pass a ban because Minneapolis could reconsider their ban,” Thune said.

St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly vetoed the first attempt at a smoking ban in St. Paul because it needed to take a regional approach, Thune said.  “It would seem silly if we were urging a regional ban and then pass a lesser ban,” Thune said. “It seems backwards.”

Thune said the vote would most likely be close because council members have the option of voting for a partial ban, a total ban or no ban in St. Paul. 

“In politics you never get too confident until the last vote,” Thune said.

He said that at this point, the City Council agrees smoking causes health problems.

“I don’t know how anyone in this day and age can deny the fact that smoking kills,” Thune said.

The City Council is concerned businesses and other groups would not hold conventions in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but Thune thinks it will even out.

“It cuts both ways,” Thune said. “There are groups that won’t go to cities that don’t have smoking bans.”

Workers at Lori’s Coffee House near the St. Paul campus had mixed feelings about a smoking ban.

“I think if they are going to have a ban, it should be all-out,” said Kelly Asche, a recent University graduate.

But his coworker, Mahmoud Shahin, disagreed.

“You should be able to smoke in a bar,” Shahin said. “That’s how bar owners make their money.”

John O’Malley, University sprinkler subcontractor, smoked for about 10 years and said he would be in favor of a complete ban.

“It’s not fair for the rest of us to have to breathe in the secondhand smoke,” O’Malley said.

He said he does not go out to bars because of the smoke and said smoking near non-smokers is “just rude.”

But bar owners in the area are concerned about what a ban will do to their businesses.

Sue Jeffers, owner of Stub & Herbs in Stadium Village, said she has read smoking studies by various medical groups, including the Red Cross. Many of their statistics are “really exaggerated,” she said.

Jeffers has put together an unofficial group of bar owners to fight smoking bans in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

“I’ve played by their rules for 25 years,” Jeffers said.

“Now I’m fighting back. It’s so hard to fight against the millions of dollars that the lobbyists have.”

In a July 12 e-mail Thune sent to Jeffers in response to her opposition to the smoking ban, he wrote, “I think you’ve been breathing too much french-fry grease. We’ll just ignore your bizarre and addled ideas.”

“I was just aghast at the things she has said,” Thune said about the e-mail. “She was totally at odds with reality.”

Jeffers said she could not believe that an elected official would write such an e-mail.

“He should be ashamed of himself,” she said.

Thune said he has been fighting for a smoking ban because of the health risks of smoking.

 “It would be really unfortunate for the health of employees if we don’t pass the ban,” Thune said.

St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly was unavailable for comment.