Proposed smoking ban sparks debate

by Jared Roddy

A proposed smoking ban, which could go into effect as early as mid-July, has sparked debate among students and business owners over its possible effects.

Following the St. Paul City Council’s proposed ordinance banning smoking in all bars and restaurants, some Minneapolis City Council members said they hope to propose a similar plan today.

Proponents said the smoking bans would offer health benefits, but opponents said small businesses would suffer.

Minneapolis City Council Member Paul Zerby, 2nd Ward, who represents areas surrounding the University’s Minneapolis campus, said smoking in bars and restaurants poses a health risk to employees and patrons.

“It may not be apparent to them immediately, so I think that it outweighs any potential business loss,” he said.

But bar and restaurant owners have expressed concern that a ban could hurt business, Zerby said.

“I think bars are afraid that neighborhood clientele will be driven away,” Zerby said. “We don’t know how many are driven away now because the place is full of smoke. It’s hard to say what causes a drop in business.”

Zerby said he had been considering such a proposal since March. When the St. Paul City Council introduced its ordinance on May 5, Minneapolis council members were forced to present their plan for a smoking ban earlier than intended.

Zerby said he expects the Minneapolis ordinance to be very similar to St. Paul’s proposal.

Minneapolis City Council member Barbara Johnson said she is worried small businesses would suffer as a result of the ban.

“My concern is the mom-and-pop style bars, because they operate on extremely thin margins,” Johnson said. “Most people who propose this stuff have never had to make a payroll or pay workman’s comp.”

Some bar managers said they expect to lose sales if a ban is enacted.

Sergeant Preston’s Saloon and Eatery general manager Kirsten Mularky said she was against the city ordinance.

“The majority of our clientele smoke,” Mularky said. “We seat approximately 225 people and our non-smoking section is only 20, and it’s never full after nine.”

Stub & Herb’s general manager Jon Landers also opposed the ban.

“I think it might improve our daytime business, but it might hurt our night business,” Landers said. “Eventually it would hurt our profits; we make a lot more money at night.”

But not all bar managers oppose the smoking restrictions.

“Personally, I’m for any ban,” said Sally’s Saloon and Eatery manager Tom Nesheim. “In terms of business, I’d rather see a statewide or preferably a nationwide ban, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”

Nesheim said if only the citywide ban went into effect, Sally’s could lose 30 to 40 percent of its late night business; he projected a 10 percent drop if legislation were statewide.

Some students said they oppose the ban.

“This is ridiculous,” said Steve Harkman, an aerospace engineering senior who smokes. “Pretty soon smokers are going to have to have their own plastic hamster balls to run around in.”

But some students are indifferent to the proposal.

“I don’t care if they pass it,” General College student Eli Madden said. “The only problem will be when the girls leave to smoke.”

Many officials and bar proprietors said they would prefer statewide legislation to prohibit smoking.

“This isolates Minneapolis and puts us at a disadvantage to surrounding suburbs,” Johnson said.

Zerby agreed.

“It would be best if this was done on a statewide level,” Zerby said. “It was going to be considered in the Legislature, but they told me it was dead, so I said I’d do it if I could get some support.”

Johnson said it is not an issue for the council to decide.

“I think every adult in America knows smoking is bad,” Johnson said. “But please don’t hammer us on the head with legislation that hurts small business.”

Of the council’s 13 members, six support the ban, five oppose it and two are undecided. It needs seven votes to pass and could reach a vote as soon as June 18.