St. Paul ban smokes out critics, supporters

The smoking ban starts March 31 and joins bans in the Twin Cities and nationwide.

Angela Gray

With the domino effect of smoking bans storming across the nation, some people are breathing cleaner air and some people are experiencing foggier business.

The City Council voted 4-3 on outlawing smoking in St. Paul bars and restaurants Jan. 11. The council had approved the law twice before only to have the plans vetoed by former Mayor Randy Kelly.

The Smokefree Workplace Law will go into effect March 31.

St. Paul joins Minneapolis, Boston, New York, Dallas, San Francisco and Los Angeles in passing smoke-free workplace legislation.

Bob Hume, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s communications director, said banning smoking from the workplace was a major priority for the mayor.

“We campaigned for a citywide ban and felt it was the right thing to do,” he said. “It was widely known the change in administration would (cause) a change in smoking laws.”

Hume said some local businesses are displeased, but there has been “a ton of positive community responses.”

“There are a lot of businesses that didn’t have the economics of others, and with the smoking ban, it now provides a level playing field,” he said.

Kathy Lantry, St. Paul City Council president, voted to support the smoking ban.

“Environmental issues, employee well-being ” it all boils down to public health,” she said. “People shouldn’t have to make a choice between having a job and putting their health at risk.”

Lantry said the council’s 4-3 vote was vetoed by former Mayor Kelly thrice, but with a new mayor, the ban finally passed.

She said counterarguments are all about choice and economics.

“Sometimes there are negative economic impacts and smaller businesses won’t make it, but those conditions could occur even if there isn’t a smoking ban,” she said.

Blake Van Denburgh, an animal science junior, said the smoking ban in St. Paul has encouraged him to go to bars more often.

“The smoky environment kept me from going out before,” he said. “I was very happy the law was enacted.”

Mike Puente, manager of Big 10 Bar and Restaurant in Minneapolis, where a similar ban was enacted last spring, said besides having a cleaner workplace, “not much has changed.”

“Our clientele has remained stable through the whole ordeal in Minneapolis,” he said.

While business hasn’t been affected too much, Puente said he does think the state is overstepping its boundaries.

“Personally, I feel it is an attack on our civil liberties,” he said. “Businesses should be able to do as they please.”

He said that if the state thinks the smoking ban is good for people, “maybe they know something we don’t.”

Brian Miller, manager of Dixies on Grand in St. Paul, said he appreciates that the ban is devoted to his employees’ health and makes for a more enjoyable dining experience. But he said he thinks it should be up to the business owners to decide.

Miller said Dixies’ food sales increased while their liquor sales decreased.

“The smoking ban has significantly hurt our late-night business,” he said.

He said they have a patio with heaters installed so people who want to smoke can step outside and be comfortable.

“It accommodates both smokers and nonsmokers,” he said.

Miller said the business is held accountable if people do smoke in his establishment.

“For a first-time offense, there is a $200 fine, and after that the penalties become much more intense,” he said.

Jim Farrel, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, said the clientele of bars and restaurants do not indicate a desire for total smoking ban.

He said he opposes tougher restrictions, but supports a partial ban.

“I understand trying to eliminate secondhand smoke, but I do not understand when the government tries to legislate something the public is not willing to accept,” he said.

He said smoking bans in an Applebee’s or Olive Garden is fine, but “small bars just want to allow someone to have a cigarette with their cocktail and be left alone.”

People know a bar atmosphere involves alcohol and tobacco. If they don’t want to work there or go there, they shouldn’t, he said.

What frustrates him most, Farrel said, is that the ban was decided by a one-vote margin and not a consensus that the public actually wants a total smoking ban.

Lantry believes the smoking ban will continue to spread across the nation.

“When bar owners in my ward contact me I tell them, “Here’s the deal, in the next few years the state of Minnesota will be smoke-free and you’ll be ahead of the curve,’ ” he said.