Minneapolis City Council members plan to introduce a proposal Friday to ban smoking in all bars and restaurants in the city.
Council Member Gary Schiff said Sunday that the proposal already has six sponsors, meaning only one more vote is needed to reach the seven required for passage. At least one other council member is leaning in that direction.
"We started talking and doing straw polls to see how strong we were. We were surprised when the first straw poll resulted in six authors," Schiff said.
The Minneapolis action comes a week after word that St. Paul would consider a similar ban. Leaders in Minneapolis openly credit St. Paul City Council Member Dave Thune's push for getting them going on the ban.
The other Minneapolis sponsors, according to Schiff, include Council Members Dean Zimmermann, Paul Zerby, Natalie Johnson Lee, Dan Niziolek and Donald Samuels. Zimmermann and Zerby confirmed their roles. The other three couldn't be reached Sunday.
Council Vice President Robert Lilligren said he is uncommitted but added that he could see himself voting for the ban.
Supporters say that it's the right thing to do and that the time is right to impose it. City Hall detractors and some bar owners worry about the effect the ban would have on business and say that if a ban is imposed, it should be statewide, not city by city.
Talking about effects
"I think the impact could be really devastating," said Mike Jennings, who owns three Warehouse District bars, including the City Tavern, and also is the president of the Minnesota Licensed
Until he got the word Sunday, Jennings said he had been feeling sorry for St. Paul business owners. Now, he worries customers will flee to the suburbs.
Jennings said he has statistics from other areas that show business drops when bans are adopted.
Supporters of the ban say they can provide statistics that show business increases.
"It's a health issue for people that work in bars. It's also good for business," Zimmermann said.
Zerby, a former two-pack-a-day smoker, said he knows that the ban will be tough and that the hospitality industry will lobby against it. But, he said, he wants to clear the air. "It's one thing to
have people struggle with their own addiction. It's another to have them inflicting it on others," he said.
Pat Dwyer owns two Minneapolis bars: Grumpy's on Washington Avenue, which sells a lot of food, and Grumpy's in northeast Minneapolis, which is a smaller neighborhood bar for drinking and smoking.
Dwyer said he figures that the downtown bar will be OK. But he said that up to 80 percent of his customers at the northeast spot smoke and that he can't send them out to the sidewalk because he has many residential neighbors.
"Times are tight. This is going to hurt the small business and restaurant owner. We don't have a margin. There's a reason you see us behind the bar pouring beers and clearing glasses," said Dwyer, a nonsmoker.
He notes that those who dislike smoke have options, such as smoke-free spots like Jet Set and Lucia's. "How many people die of skin cancer each year? Are we going to regulate sunlight? At some point, personal choice has to enter into it," Dwyer said.
The proposal has opposition on the City Council, too, including Council Member Barbara Johnson.
"I just wish we wouldn't dive into this. We have a huge convention industry, and our convention people are absolutely opposed," she said. "I just don't think we should be telling people how to do their business."
Council President Paul Ostrow said he had similar concerns about the effect on the entertainment and hospitality industries.
Said Schiff: "I care about the health of the tourism industry, I care more about the health of Minneapolis residents.'
Johnson, Ostrow and Council Member Lisa Goodman say if there is to be a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, it should be statewide. None are smokers.
Fine Line Music Cafe owner Dario Anselmo, a nonsmoker, agreed. "I think it makes more sense to make it a statewide thing like they did in California," he said.
New York, Connecticut, Delaware and Maine all have smoke-free bars, as do Ireland and Norway.
Mayor R.T. Rybak was noncommittal but not thrilled with the prospect of a ban. If the council passed a smoking ban, he could veto it, which would require nine votes to override.
"It's time to call the question. I'm excited to hear what people in the community think, but I enter the conversation as a rabid anti-smoker and former smoker who thinks the government shouldn't tell me what to do with my lungs," he said.
Rybak, who kicked his habit on Aug. 8, 1979, added, "I enter this with a great deal of skepticism about whether this is government's role."
He encouraged those with thoughts on the ban to send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ban has yet to be formally introduced so some details remain unresolved, such as when the ban would begin and whether outdoor areas at bars and restaurants would be affected. A news conference is tentatively planned Tuesday to announce the proposal. A formal introduction is planned Friday, with dates of consideration in committees to be determined later.
In Minnesota, only Duluth, Moose Lake, Cloquet and Olmsted County have adopted similar bans, although 39 communities, including St. Paul, have proposed them.
Count Thune as one person who was thrilled with the Minneapolis action and thinks it will spread.
"All right! If in fact the Minneapolis council does that, the momentum is huge, not only for St. Paul, but for the suburbs as well," he said.
Rochelle Olson is at email@example.com