Motion to block smoking ban fails

Patrons who ignore the ban might be charged with disorderly conduct.

Neil Munshi

It appears the last cigarettes smoked in Hennepin County bars and restaurants will be extinguished March 31, after a county judge denied a request Friday to at least temporarily halt the new law.

Stub & Herbs and several other local bars and clubs sought a temporary restraining order to stop the ordinances banning smoking earlier this month.

Despite the ruling, Stub & Herbs owner Sue Jeffers said she plans to continue fighting the law.

“We are very disappointed by the decision from the court today,” Jeffers said. “But it is only a temporary setback. We only lose when we stop fighting, and we’re not done fighting yet.”

Judge John Q. McShane cited speculative evidence submitted by Jeffers and her fellow plaintiffs and a careful interpretation of the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act of 1975.

The plaintiffs raised concerns the act did not expressly give local government authority to impose smoking bans on privately owned establishments.

Paul Zerby, Ward 2, who represents the Minneapolis campus and surrounding areas, said, “I think (the ruling) really is very clear in setting out the legal standard and the ways in which the plaintiffs have failed to meet it.”

Zerby said he thought one of the most important tests the plaintiffs didn’t pass was whether the case was likely to succeed based on its merits should it proceed through litigation.

“That is not only saying there is no basis for the temporary injunction,” he said. “It’s really, I think, sending a strong message that there is very little likelihood that the plaintiffs are going to win this case if they pursue it.”

Jeffers said that her attorney will begin appealing the ruling today.

“We’re not done fighting yet, and we will continue to fight for property and individual rights for the small-business owners of Minneapolis, Bloomington (Minn.) and Hennepin County,” she said.

Ken Ziegler, license inspector for Minneapolis, said bar owners will still be able to apply for $265 tobacco-distribution licenses from the city to sell cigarettes in their establishments.

He said bars will not be able to allow their patrons to use the product in their buildings.

Lori Olson, deputy director of Environmental Management and Safety for Minneapolis, said the city’s Department of Regulatory Services will handle the ban’s enforcement.

Olson said compliance will be complaint-driven, so if a person witnesses a violation of the ordinance, he or she can contact a Department of Regulatory Services hotline for help.

Establishments that do not comply with the ordinance will first be issued a letter, Olson said. On a second complaint, a city inspector will be sent unannounced, and if he or she notices violations of the ban, he or she will issue a $200 citation.

That citation can double up to $2,000. After that, if a bar continues to disregard the ban, its liquor license can be revoked, Olson said.

She said it is highly unlikely any bar would take it far enough to have its license revoked because once it is stripped, it is very hard to get it back.

She said bar owners will only be penalized if they condone smoking. People who keep smoking despite requests to stop can also be charged with disorderly conduct.