Hennepin County passes ban

Jerret Raffety

The days of smoking in Hennepin County bars and restaurants are officially numbered.

The Hennepin County Commissioners Board voted 5-2 Tuesday to ban smoking in public facilities.

The motion eliminates all smoking in facilities that serve food and/or have liquor licenses within Hennepin County, according the ordinance.

While the countywide ban will take effect March 31, one failed amendment in the meeting tried to limit the ban to establishments where liquor purchases accounted for less than 50 percent of all sales.

Hennepin County Commissioner Gayle Dorfman said health and safety concerns for patrons and workers led to the ban.

The health issue arose from proven connections between secondhand smoke and many lung and heart ailments, Dorfman said.

The move was also considered to reduce the number of smoking-related ailments, possibly easing the drain on Minnesota’s health-care system, Dorfman said. State health-care premiums increase from smoking-related illnesses, she said.

Some county commissioners at Tuesday’s board meeting argued the ban would burden Hennepin County establishments by forcing smokers to take their business to other counties.

State Rep. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said studies show that businesses have not been negatively affected by smoking bans. In fact, Latz said, tax receipts from businesses in El Paso, Texas, showed positive financial gains after a similar ban was passed.

Several cities and counties across Minnesota have adopted a smoking ban. Hennepin County commissioners considered the ban after several city mayors initiated the idea, Latz said.

But, debate continues whether a statewide smoking ban should be considered.

Some state and county commissioners would like statewide smoking bans in restaurants and bars, Dorfman said. Similar bans exist in Massachusetts, California and Florida, county officials said.

Statewide bans would erase competition between businesses. With bans in separate counties, some bars are more attractive to smokers or nonsmokers, Latz said.

But until a statewide ban is possible, Hennepin County ought to have fair competition with Ramsey County, which has already adopted a partial smoking ban, Dorfman said.

Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett said other counties will address a statewide smoking ban.

Some local business owners agree that a statewide ban would make more sense than a limited ban.

“(A regional ban) limits the business within the counties of the ban from drawing destination-type customers,” said Mike Mulrooney, owner of Blarney Irish Pub & Grill.

Customers who might come to campus to watch Gophers sports might stay in their own counties because the bars there allow smoking, Mulrooney said. Repercussions such as those can potentially affect business at bars such as his, he said.