Smoking ban gains momentum

The Freedom to Breathe Act passed full committee in the Senate last year.

by Brady Averill

The bipartisan bill calling for a statewide smoking ban in public places is facing round two at the State Legislature this session.

The Freedom to Breathe Act passed full committee in the Senate last year but was never heard in the House.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, author of the Senate version of the bill, said he is optimistic it will pass during this legislative session.

“I think the momentum has grown tremendously. It’s huge,” he said.

Dibble’s bill bans smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants. A companion bill in the House is less expansive – it was amended in committee and, among other changes, does not ban smoking in bars where 50 percent of revenue comes from liquor sales.

A potential statewide smoking ban has stirred controversy. While some nonsmokers and health advocates said they are happy about it, hospitality-business owners said they fear losing revenue.

Dibble said the House bill is not worth pursuing if it excludes bars. The bill also causes confusion, because revenue from food and liquor sales changes constantly, he said.

“It adds a whole layer of complication that is really unnecessary,” he said.

Rep. Ray Cox, R-Northfield, co-author of the House bill, said the bill changed in committee for financial and legal reasons.

He said people voiced concern about the financial impact a ban would have on bars. The other concern was regulating smoking, a legal activity.

Cox said that he supported the bill when it was intact. However, he said, he will take what he can get.

“If you try for a whole loaf of bread and you only come back with two-thirds, you take the two-thirds,” he said.

Dibble, who worked at restaurants and bars throughout college, said he supports a bill that promotes a safe and healthy working environment for employees.

“I’m just astonished that we tolerate such an unhealthy atmosphere,” he said.

When asked about the right to smoke, Dibble said, “I’m not asking smokers to not smoke, and I’m adamant about that.”

People can smoke all they want when only they are affected, he said, but in a public setting, smoking affects others.

A smoking ban in public places is becoming a local and national trend.

California, Delaware and New York have passed similar bills that make workplaces smoke-free. In Minneapolis, smoking will be banned in all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, starting March 31.

Hennepin County adopted a smoke-free policy that prohibits smoking in establishments where food is served, which will also go into effect March 31. In Ramsey County, restaurants that make less than 50 percent of their revenue from liquor sales will be smoke-free effective March 31.

Health concerns

The act’s goal is to protect employees from secondhand smoke.

Dave Golden, Boynton Health Service public health and marketing director, said exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk for respiratory diseases and lung cancer by approximately 30 percent and significantly increases the risk for cardiovascular disease.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, secondhand smoke causes 3,000 lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers annually.

Golden said students, many of whom work in bars and restaurants, are vulnerable to the impact of secondhand smoke.

Putting workers in an environment daily where they are exposed automatically increases their chances for different diseases and cancer, he said.

“Exposure to tobacco smoke makes all of us less healthy,” he said.

A different tune

Some in the hospitality industry said they fear a statewide ban would be bad for business.

Sue Jeffers, owner of Stub & Herbs, said she is “adamantly opposed” to a ban because it infringes on her constitutional private property rights.

But Dibble said the government already regulates public establishments – such as ensuring fire exits are not blocked.

“I think that we ask all sorts of public establishments that serve the public to make sure their business is safe on a whole lot of other grounds,” he said.

A smoking ban is no different, he said.

Though the Minneapolis ban goes into effect next month and could cause customers to patronize bars outside of the city, Jeffers said, a statewide ban hurts everyone.

“Should we screw us all?” she said.

Jeffers said employees who are exposed to secondhand smoke are not forced to work in a smoking establishment.

Kevin Jargo, a biomedical engineering junior who works at Cafe Havana in downtown Minneapolis as a bar back and valet driver, said he agrees.

“If it’s really an issue for an employee, you could probably make the effort to find another job where there’s no smoking,” he said.

Martini Blu, a night club open since 2002 in downtown Minneapolis, has always been smoke-free, said Debra Niemela, the club’s manager and event coordinator.

Life Time Fitness owns it and promotes a healthy environment, she said.

She said she believes customers welcome the smoke-free environment. At first, she said, the establishment was slightly criticized for the policy.

Jargo, a social smoker, said it should be the business owner’s decision whether to ban smoking.

“You go to a bar, it’s just implied in a liquor license that smoking will occur,” he said.

While Jargo believes people have a right to smoke in a bar, he gets annoyed when cigar smoke is blown in his face when he washes dishes behind the bar, he said.

A student affair

Leanne Concordia, a first-year kinesiology student from Madison, Wis., said she opposes a statewide ban because she thinks it would hurt businesses.

She said she witnessed the impact on businesses in her hometown, where a smoking ban was passed. She said people choose to go to bars outside the city, where they can smoke.

Postsecondary student Claire Savage said people should smoke in their homes instead of public places.

“I think (a ban) would be good. I hate walking around smoke all the time,” she said.