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PRO AND CON

"My philosophy is to stand with small businesses. Reducing smoking should not be a government mandate.''

Sen. CHRIS GERLACH, R-Apple Valley

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"We [the state] provide for basic levels of safety and health. That's our role and responsibility through common-sense regulation."

Sen. SCOTT DIBBLE, DFL-Minneapolis

Editorial: Reject challenge to state smoking ban

  • February 27, 2011 - 5:32 PM

Star Tribune Editorial

A proposal to repeal part of Minnesota's indoor smoking ban should be snuffed out immediately.

Diluting the state's hard-won victory for clean indoor air is a terrible idea that shouldn't get any legislative traction this year.

A small, bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to repeal the portion of state law that prohibits smoking in bars that also serve food.

Under the plan, bars would have to provide a room sealed off from the adjacent restaurant with floor-to-ceiling walls and a ventilation system that exchanges the indoor air every two hours.

Smoking would still be banned in the rest of the building.

The proposed legislation would also phase in deadlines for bar/restaurants to install ventilation systems, based on their alcohol sales.

Businesses with 40 percent or less of their revenues in liquor sales would have to install ventilation systems by mid-2012; those with alcohol sales of more than 80 percent would have until 2017.

That would give bars several years to return to the "bad old days'' of cloudy rooms where smoke can easily drift into other parts of the building.

The claim that nonsmokers can be separated and protected was soundly discredited during debate when the ban was passed in 2007.

Research is clear on that point. Officials of the local Cancer Society say the proposed ventilation requirements would not remove smoke-related carcinogens from the air.

A 2005 Minnesota Health Department study found that huge numbers of Minnesotans are exposed to and affected by secondhand smoke every year. That includes nonsmokers who try to avoid smoky venues.

Though Minnesota's law has been in effect for three years, debate has continued over the financial impact on bars and restaurants.

Some bar owners say they've had dramatic drops in business because of the ban; others report that their establishments attracted new customers who enjoy eating and drinking in a smoke-free environment.

Supporters of weakening the ban also argue that smoking is a matter of personal choice that should not be impinged upon by government. One lawmaker said customers should have the right to select a bar or restaurant based on whether the establishment allows smoking.

Not quite. Individuals can indeed decide where to eat and drink. But they have no right to endanger the health of those around them or drive up health care costs for other taxpayers.

Smoking and secondhand smoke contribute to lung cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, male impotence, and routine colds and illnesses -- just to name a few related maladies.

A study commissioned by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota found that illnesses caused by secondhand smoke alone add nearly $216 million annually to state health-care costs.

Most states, including neighboring Wisconsin, have moved in the other direction by wisely prohibiting smoking in public indoor spaces.

More than three decades ago, Minnesota was a pioneer in the campaign for clean air -- and it took nearly that long to get the exemplary 2007 law in place.

This is no time for our state to step backward and lose ground on this important public health front.

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