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Smoking ban proposed for Fargo-Moorhead area
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Linda Kohls of the American Cancer Society in Fargo wants Fargo, Moorhead and two neighboring cities to go smoke-free. (MPR Photo/Bob Reha)
An anti-tobacco coalition in the Fargo-Moorhead area wants local bars and restaurants to go smoke-free. They've proposed an ordinance to local city officials, and hope it's approved by the end of the year.

Moorhead, Minn. — Linda Kohls is the director of Fargo's American Cancer Society. Kohls says approving a no-smoking ban in Fargo is the first step of an ambitious plan. Ultimately, her organization wants the no-smoking ban to cover four neighboring communities.

"Our hope is that it happens not only in Fargo but also in Dilworth, Moorhead and West Fargo. Just so everybody is on a level playing ground," says Kohls. "We'd like to impact the health of the workers and the patrons of the places in all of those communities."

Kohls say if all four cities go smokeless, no one has an unfair advantage. It's the dilemma of Fargo and Moorhead's geography, being right across the river from each other. And, it might appeal to city leaders who fear their town would lose business to one that allows smoking.

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Image Mayor Bruce Furness

Kohls says the ban is also motivated by health concerns. She says people are at risk because of second-hand smoke.

"The Center for Disease Control has documented that 62,000 people a year die from second-hand smoke," says Kohls. "That's not just lung cancer, but it's from heart disease and other diseases."

Banning smoking in restaurants appears to have widespread support.

"No smoking in bars is a little more difficult for me personally, says Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness. "The argument is choice. People have the choice now -- if they don't want to go into a bar they don't have to."

Furness says the problem is finding a legal distinction between a bar and a restaurant.

"So we're looking for some way that you can say, what really is a bar and what really is a restaurant. Maybe it's the age 21 thing. I really don't know what it would be," says Furness.

The distinction between bar and restaurant is a question the city of Duluth is still struggling with. Officials there passed a no-smoking ordinance more than 18 months ago. Mark Winson, the city's chief administrative officer, says Duluth officials have spent a lot of time tweaking the ordinance.

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Image Opposes smoking ban

"They looked at times at having a tiered criteria -- places that don't serve anymore than this number could allow smoking. They ended up eliminating that," says Winson. "The whole process probably took a year and a half before we got to the final ordinance."

Winson says smoking in Duluth is prohibited in any bar that serves more than pre-packaged or convenience foods.

The smoking ban proposal worries some bar owners. Mark Doyle, co-owner of Chub's Pub in Fargo, is concerned it will hurt business.

"There was a smoke-free bar in Fargo already and it went broke," says Doyle. "And for those proponents of the non-smoking (proposal) to come out and say. 'Oh, it won't affect business and your business is better,' you know what, for every one of those people that says that, I can probably find two that says it killed their business."

Doyle says bar owners will try to defeat the ordinance. Jason Ramstad, the manager of Chub's Pub, says the decision to make a business non-smoking should be made by the owners.

"If people do continue to smoke, which isn't illegal," says Ramstad. "Just as places should be able to cater to non-smokers, they should be able to cater to smokers as well."

Ramstad has mailed 1,000 surveys to local bar employees. He says about 400 have been returned so far, and a majority indicate if the ordinance is passed it will hurt workers economically.

Fargo city commissioners are expected to debate the proposal next month.

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