By Jen Bakken
In October, it will be two years since the smoking ban went into effect across the state of Minnesota.
How are business owners fairing? What do employees think? Have smokers accepted stepping outside? Is anyone still talking about it?
The answer to these questions depends on who you talk to. For Myra Hirsch, assistant manager at Howard Lake Municipal Liquors, the ban was a welcome change.
“As a worker and a non-smoker, I appreciate it,” she said. “I don’t come home smelling like smoke, and my sinuses are better. Oh, of course, people complained at first, and said they’d never come back, but, about a month later, they returned and now it’s just a habit they just go outside to smoke.”
Many area bars and restaurants have created outside patios to accommodate smokers, although during the winter months, this isn’t a desirable option. It can also create a problem for bar owners to keep an eye on patrons inside and outside.
“I think people are adapting, but the bars aren’t,” said John Skoogman, former owner of Boonedocks near Buffalo. “I think it’s a freedom of choice. Sure there are rules and regulations to live by, but you don’t have to enter a place if you don’t want to.”
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. The entire state is smoke-free in all indoor public establishments and workplaces.
The Minnesota Department of Health and local units like Wright County Public Health are responsible for ensuring compliance through awareness and education.
Illegal smokers and non-complying businesses can face petty misdemeanor charges and $300 fines filed by local police, and the MDH has the authority to levy fines up to $10,000 on businesses for uncorrected violations.
Theater nights put to a halt
The smoking ban contains an exception for performers in theatrical productions, allowing actors to light up in character during theatrical performances as long as patrons are notified in advance.
Some bars attempted to get around the ban by printing up playbills, encouraging customers to come in costume, and pronouncing them “actors.”
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has said that bars do not become exempt from the Freedom to Breathe Act by holding “theater nights.” Theatre nights being held in bars do not fall within the theatrical production exemption of the Freedom to Breathe Act.
In a press release, the MDH said that in reviewing the law, MDH has determined that it has the authority to address theater nights and take enforcement action if the activity is an attempt to allow smoking in violation of the act, thus putting to a halt future theater nights.
The Freedom to Breathe Act
The legislature passed the Freedom to Breathe Act to protect employees and the public from the hazards of secondhand smoke. Governor Pawlenty signed it into law May 16, 2007.
The 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 prohibit smoking not only in bars, restaurants and private clubs, but also in all indoor public places and workplaces. These include office and industrial workplaces, retail stores, public transportation, day care centers, and health care facilities.
The economy or the ban?
According to an article on cleanairquality.blogspot.com, over 300 Minneapolis and St. Paul area bars and restaurants closed after the smoking ban was implemented, 100 of these closed within 20 months of the ban. These businesses and jobs were eliminated long before the economic crisis began.