October 1, 2007

Statewide smoking ban goes into effect today

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

As of today, the entire state of Minnesota will be smokefree in all indoor public establishments and workplaces.

Minnesota is the 20th state to pass a smoking ban into law as a provision called Freedom to Breathe under the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act.

Several counties previously adopted smoke-free ordinances including McLeod, Hennepin, Ramsey, Meeker, Beltrami, and Olmsted.

However, exemptions were made for liquor establishments that had “expanded food menus,” and if certain criteria were met. Those exemptions expired today.

“This is untread water,” said Wright County Health Educator Joel Torkelson. “We’re going to take it day-by-day. The sense we’ve been getting from business owners is that they want to follow the law and know what their responsibilities are,” Torkelson said.

Even before the statewide ban took effect, about 40 percent of Minnesota’s population was affected by some form of smoking ordinance, Torkelson explained.

“It’s fair for everyone across the board now. Everyone will need to follow the same rules,” he added.

Some smokers, on the other hand, don’t think the ban is fair at all.

“The smoking ban should leave the non-profit bars alone – like the Legions, VFWs, Elks, and Eagles,” said smoker Karen Range of Lester Prairie.

Greg Laxen of Winsted said he wished he could still smoke in bars. “I know it’s not going to be easy. I bet there will be a lot of complaining about it,” Laxen said.

Howard Lake Legion bar manager Sandi Diers said plans are in place for a smoking patio, complete with cobblestone pavers, tables, and ashtrays in a designated smoking area in front of the Legion.

“Initially, we think the ban will hurt business, and that people will stay home more at first, but once people get used to the rules, we think they’ll be back,” Laxen said.

“It’s going to be different,” she added.

Dave Carroll of Dave’s Town Club in Delano has been in business for the last 21 years, and isn’t exactly sure what to expect as the ban takes effect.

“I suspect bar business will drop until the people get used to it,” Carroll said. “I won’t be hurt as much as most because my business is more food-oriented, while others in the area are more bar-oriented,” he explained.

Carroll hopes that down the road, the ban will actually improve the food side of his business from families who previously wouldn’t patronize the club because of the smoke.

Dave’s Town Club has a deck outside that will most likely serve as a designated smoking area during later hours of the day.

“Maybe the deck will be non-smoking for part of the day so people could eat out there, but if they’re smoking, we can’t serve them,” Carroll explained.

The Minnesota Department of Health and local units like Wright County Public Health will be responsible for ensuring compliance and will do that mainly through awareness and education.

But illegal smokers and non-complying businesses could face petty misdemeanor charges and $300 fines filed by local police, and the MDH will have authority to levy fines up to $10,000 on businesses for uncorrected violations.

County public health offices, as well as law enforcement, have taken the proactive approach of education before the ban took effect. Because of that, compliance expectations are high.

Local government will retain the authority to stiffen non-compliance penalties, according to McLeod County Health Educator Jean Johnson.

For example, proprietors or individuals who knowingly fail to comply with the new law will be issued petty misdemeanors, whereas, those within the city limits of Hutchinson will be issued misdemeanors because its city ordinance dictates a stiffer penalty than the state.

“So the state law is a floor and not a ceiling,” Johnson said.

McLeod County’s smoking ban went into effect Nov. 1, 2006, and since then, the county has not had one violator and only one complaint in regards to the ban, according to Johnson.

The Freedom to Breathe Act

The Legislature passed the Freedom to Breathe Act last spring to protect employees and the public from the hazards of secondhand smoke. Govenor Pawlenty signed it into law May 16.

The new law is an expansion of the 1975 Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act, which limited smoking in indoor workplaces, with the exception of bars and restaurants.

The Freedom to Breathe amendments will prohibit smoking not only in bars, restaurants and private clubs, but also in virtually all indoor public places and workplaces.

These include office and industrial workplaces, retail stores, public transportation, day care centers, and health care facilities.

The law will require owners and managers to:

• put up no-smoking signs and remove ashtrays.

• ask persons who smoke in banned areas to stop smoking and to leave if they don’t.

• refuse to serve people who don’t comply.

• use lawful methods consistent with handling disorderly persons or trespassers for anyone who won’t comply after being asked to leave.

The ban will now prohibit smoking in virtually all indoor public places such as:

• Bars, restaurants, and private clubs

• Office and industrial workplaces

• Retail stores

• Common areas of rental apartment buildings, hotels, and motels

• Public transportation, including taxis

• Work vehicles, if more than one person is present

• Home offices with one or more on-site employees, or used as a place to meet or deal with customers

• Public and private educational facilities

• Auditoriums, arenas, and meeting rooms

• Day care premises

• Health care facilities

To report a violation, notify management of the facility and ask that corrective action be taken. The Minnesota Department of Health offers a “Compliance Assistance Letter” for the public to use. To obtain the letter go to www.health.state.mn.us.

McLeod County celebration

A “Freedom to Breathe” celebration will take place Monday, Oct. 1 from 7-8 p.m. at McCormick’s Restaurant in Hutchinson.

Senator Steve Dille will make an appearance at the event.

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