Minnesota marks 5 years smoke-freeMinnesota health advocates are proclaiming the law that banned smoking in bars, restaurants and workplaces an “overwhelming success” on its fifth anniversary today.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Minnesota health advocates are proclaiming the law that banned smoking in bars, restaurants and workplaces an “overwhelming success” on its fifth anniversary today.
“Minnesotans have embraced our smoke-free law,” said Dr. Edward Ehlinger, Minnesota Department of Health commissioner, in an American Lung Association news release. “We’ve seen a decline in exposure to secondhand smoke, the number of addicted smokers has decreased and a study from the Mayo Clinic shows a decline in heart attacks after smoke-free laws took effect. Simply put, Minnesotans are healthier.”
The news release also cited a 2011 poll by Decision Resources LTD that found 79 percent of Minnesotans support the law, and 86 percent believe smoke-free restaurants and bars are healthier for customers and employees.
In Duluth, the state law that went into effect on Oct. 1, 2007, served to replace and expand a city smoke-free ordinance that had been on the books since 2000. The local ordinance wasn’t as broad as the state law. Among other things, it didn’t include bars.
The change five years ago wasn’t pain-free for those establishments.
At Stadium Lanes in West Duluth, the bowling side of the business wasn’t affected because the city ban already was in effect there, said Randy Hill, who owns the business. But the adjoining bar, Clubhouse Sports Bar, had a 20 percent to 25 percent loss in liquor sales that has never been regained, he said.
But Hill hastened to add that he doesn’t entirely blame the smoke ban. The change in the legal blood-alcohol limit for driving from .1 to .08 in 2005, and the economic downturn in 2008, also drove customers away, he said.
“I call it a tripod effect,” Hill said.
Through the continuing rough times, Hill hasn’t laid off any employees, he said.
“We just tightened our belt and cut expenses the best we can,” he said. “It’s still tough out there.”
Hill said he’d leave it to others to take a stand on the smoking ban, but he cited its advantages.
“It’s healthier,” he said. “It’s better for the employees. There’s less cleanup. There’s less fire liability.”
Patrons’ opinions are mixed, Hill added. “Half of the customer base likes it better, and the other half wants smoking.”
He suggested there might have been less of an effect in areas patronized by tourists. Indeed, there was little downside at Grandma’s Sports Garden in Canal Park, said Matt Baumgartner, its general manager.
“The smokers moved outside,” he said. “They still came.”
Baumgartner said the law has been beneficial.
“As a whole we have a staff that’s happier and healthier,” he said. “In my opinion it’s been a good thing.”
The move to smoke-free legislation started in Northeastern Minnesota. Moose Lake passed the state’s first smoke-free ordinance for restaurants in 2000. Duluth and Cloquet soon followed.
The Northland has continued to be active in anti-smoking initiatives. The University of Minnesota Duluth became the first institution of higher learning in the state to implement a campus-wide smoking ban, in 2007. Earlier this year, the Duluth City Council approved a smoking ban on the Lakewalk and connecting parks.
But an estimated 625,000 Minnesotans still smoke, the American Lung Association news release noted, and smoking is responsible for the deaths of more than 5,100 Minnesotans per year and $3 billion per year in excess health-care costs.
Pat McKone, director of mission programs for the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest, said the tobacco industry spends $157 million per year in Minnesota marketing its products, and said more than 6,800 Minnesota kids become daily smokers each year.