Smoking ban talks still fiery

Area bar owners aren’t certain the ban will draw smokers back to campus.

by Courtney Blanchard

As lawmakers debate a statewide smoking ban, some campus bar owners wonder if it will fire up business again.

Proponents of the bill hope the ban would alleviate health problems and competition between bars in different jurisdictions. Opponents, however, see it as an invasion of personal choice that will lure patrons from Minnesota bars.

Lawmakers narrowly rejected exempting bars and restaurants that make more than half of their revenue through liquor sales from the ban in the Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Committee on Wednesday.

Committee chair Sen. James Metzen, DFL-St. Paul, emphasized a sense of urgency.

“I want to pass a bill out of there, as strong as possible,” he said.

Lawmakers ran out of time to vote on the bill after hearing testimony from opponents of the bill. Among the testifiers was Earl “Doc” Smith, an engineer who demonstrated on his son’s empty hamster cage how to eliminate fumes by ventilating bars.

Business and the ban

Campus-area businesses are in disagreement about the effect of the citywide smoking ban passed almost two years ago.

Mike Mulrooney, owner of Blarney Pub & Grill in Dinkytown, said the smoking ban had no impact on his business.

“Overall I think it creates a better atmosphere,” he said, citing a cleaner environment and less maintenance.

Mulrooney, himself a smoker, said he thinks a statewide ban would help bars that are losing patrons to bordering counties that permit smoking.

Grandma’s Saloon & Grill general manager Hal Holmes said business had definitely been affected by the Minneapolis smoking ban.

“Let me put it this way: The number of nonsmokers didn’t replace the number of smokers,” he said.

Holmes said he wasn’t sure a statewide ban would bring business back to Grandma’s, but suggested it could help bars bordering counties without a ban.

Stub & Herbs owner Sue Jeffers said the proposed ban would only give bar patrons new borders to cross.

“A level playing field is Communism,” she said. “Tyranny is still tyranny.”

Jeffers has been involved in the smoking ban debate for several years, and said the government’s role isn’t to impose such a ban.

She’s critical of how tobacco settlement money is used to “exaggerate the effects of secondhand smoke.

“What’s unfortunate is they started with an admirable goal: to get people to stop smoking,” Jeffers said.

Health and government control

DFL Rep. Alice Hausman, who represents the St. Paul campus, said the bill is primarily about health.

“This is an issue of where we can affect health care costs,” she said.

Hausman said she hopes such a ban will protect employees in bars and restaurants, as well as give smokers incentive to quit.

“Though there is always this perception that it is a business killer, it just doesn’t seem to be the case,” she said. “Smokers adjust.”

Marketing and political science first-year student Andy Post said the bill doesn’t meet its purpose to protect health because it excludes casinos and doesn’t ban all tobacco.

“I definitely hate being around smoke, but I don’t choose to go to bars with a lot of smoke,” he said. “I understand that when I go there, I put myself at risk.”

Post said he is not a smoker and doesn’t expect a bar to throw out smoking customers to accommodate him.

Post added that only local government should pass such a ban.

Todd Klingel, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, said states are moving toward smoking bans.

He said it’s hard to track the effects of county and city bans in Minnesota because some bars suffer while others experience increased food sales.

“I think eventually the whole nation’s going to go smoke-free and then you’ll have to get your passport and go to Canada to smoke,” he said.