A statewide smoking ban began today, and business owners have been preparing for a new era.
In the past months, six Minnesota bar bands have dialed up Tyomies Bar in Superior, Wis., looking to book gigs at the bar located a skip across the bridge from Duluth. Down the street, Shooter's Saloon has doubled its wait staff from two to four and a few blocks away, High Fives On 5th has added five tables.
The Superior watering holes are bracing for more business from Minnesotans leaving their home state to escape a statewide smoking ban that went into effect at 12:01 a.m. today.
"Oh yeah," said Sheila Kyrola, a manager at Tyomies. "They're looking for new bars."
Lighting up almost anywhere indoors in Minnesota will be prohibited as of today, when it joins 17 other states that have statewide smoking bans.
Restaurants, bars and private clubs are expected to be affected the most, and their owners are the most anxious.
The ban promises to change the way many Minnesotans socialize and how local businesses operate, especially in border towns, where nonsmoking and smoking bars may soon be almost close enough for secondhand smoke to drift from one to the other.
Some fear that patrons who don't cross state lines might jump ship to casinos on Indian reservations, where smoking will be allowed, while others may simply drink and smoke in their own homes.
Bracing for the ban, bar owners have been making last-minute trips to home improvement stores to pick up extra propane heaters. Outdoor areas, where smoking is permitted, have been added in many places.
"They're doing patios, outdoor facilities to try and make their customers have a spot to have a cigarette so they don't have to get in a car and leave," said Kenn Rockler, of the Minnesota Tavern League.
Otis Trujillo, owner of LaFonda de Los Lobos in Eagan, said he has begun a $50,000 remodeling of a dining room in anticipation of massive losses from his sports bar on another floor. But he will not spend money on outdoor patios until he gets more information about how local governments will react. Local governments are permitted to enact stricter standards than the state law.
"If smoking is what kept you away, I'm giving you something new," Trujillo said. "As far as constructing new walls and putting up tents outside, we're not doing that until I get direct definition of what's allowed."
Hoping for change, few bumps
The Minnesota Department of Health and local health officials have distributed thousands of information packets to about 7,000 food and beverage establishments reminding them of the new law.
The expressed intent of the law, Minnesota's Freedom to Breathe Act, is to protect workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke. But antismoking advocates have not been shy about their hopes for other consequences -- that fewer people will smoke.
"Smoking becomes something you have to interrupt your social activity to do. Because of that, you just cut down more," said Mike Maguire, a spokesman for the Midwest Division of the American Cancer Society. "We expect a pretty smooth transition with just a few bumps."
In Ohio, though, where a statewide ban took effect this year, many businesses appeared to be openly violating the law. More than 13,000 complaints about smoking were reported during the ban's first four months, according to one newspaper account.
But in Minnesota "for the most part people will comply," predicted Dr. Jane Korn, medical director for the Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Division of the Minnesota Department of Health. "We're just going to rely on Minnesotans being law-abiding citizens."