Smoking ban debate still smoldering

Many small-business owners want to ammend the ban or make it universal.

by Lora Pabst

Dozens of bar, club and restaurant owners from Hennepin County protested the smoking ban Thursday outside the Hennepin County Government Center.

The ban, which has been in effect since March 31, has long created extreme reaction from both sides.

To small-business owners, the ban means less money and a threat to their business’ future. They also contend government shouldn’t have legislative power over small businesses.

To people concerned about secondhand smoke, the ban provides relief from smoky restaurants and bars.

Sue Jeffers, owner of Stub & Herbs, wants the ban amended or repealed because, she said, her business is suffering.

“I’m one of the lucky (businesses),” she said. “(My business) is only down 10 percent.”

But 10 percent still makes a difference, Jeffers said. She’s had to cut back on employees.

Now that school is back in session, Stub & Herbs’ business is improving. But Jeffers spent $30,000 building a deck to lure back smoking patrons.

Chuck Gilbert, vice president of Escape Ultra Lounge in downtown Minneapolis, estimated 25 percent to 30 percent of his clientele are students. Even with the club’s strong 18-plus nights, business is down 35 percent to 40 percent.

To students who smoke, if they want to light up in bars and restaurants, they have to leave Hennepin County.

“Kids like to have options,” Gilbert said.

Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein said he wants the ban to be modified so businesses can survive.

“The county should change to be like St. Paul,” he said. “If you’re going to have a ban, it should be statewide.”

Ramsey County has a partial ban, which exempts establishments that sell more liquor than food.

Bob Moffitt, communications director for the American Lung Association of Minnesota, said health is much more important than the economic impact of the ban.

“(When politicians are) faced between human life and a few percentage points of profit at the neighborhood bar, we’re certain the politicians who really care about human health in this community will keep the smoke-free ordinances as they are today,” he said.

Moffitt said the National Cancer Institute estimates secondhand smoke causes an estimated 38,000 deaths a year.

Leah Karason, a first-year education major, supports the smoking ban.

“I don’t smoke, so I don’t like to be trapped,” she said. “It’s not very hard (for smokers) to go outside.”

Ije Omeoga, an undecided sophomore, said there shouldn’t be a ban in bars.

“(Bars) seem like an appropriate place for it,” she said. “But maybe not in nightclubs, because people go there to dance.”