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Moorhead City Council debates smoking ban
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Nancy Otto, a member of the Moorhead City Council, favors a proposal to ban smoking in bars and restaurants in her city. (MPR Photo/Bob Reha)
Moorhead city officials are voting on an ordinance that would ban smoking in local restaurants. About a dozen Minnesota communities have such laws. Proponents say the bans protect workers from second-hand smoke but others argue the smoking bans are a personal attack on smokers.

Moorhead, Minn. — Nancy Otto is on the Moorhead City Council. She predicts the council will pass the ordinance that bans smoking in restaurants -- but not in bars. Otto says there's not enough support to extend the ban to bars. But restaurants with a bar will only allow smoking in the bar area. Nancy Otto hopes some people will change their mind, after the ban takes affect.

"First, prove it to our communities, as other communities have, that it does not decrease the revenue (of bars and restauraunts)," says Otto. "It's just something that needs to be taken a step at a time, so that the community is able to take a look and evaluate what's happened after this."

Moorhead is one of four communities in the Red River Valley considering smoking bans. Dilworth, Fargo and West Fargo officials all have the issue on their agenda.

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Image Opposes the ban

Banning smoking in restaurants, but not bars is a familiar debate. Moose Lake, Duluth and Cloquet have all passed no smoking ordinances. Olmsted County, which includes the city of Rochester, also passed a ban. Each community has struggled with how to define the difference between a bar and restaurant.

Supporters of a smoking ban say the debate is a red herring.

"The issue here is basically, is this a public health hazard or not," says Pat McKone, senior director for tobacco control programs for the American Lung Association.

McKone says numerous studies show second-hand smoke is a health risk. The studies claim second-hand smoke enhances the risk for lung and heart disease. McKone says for employers to ignore that risk is insulting.

"In no industry can we ask employees to waive their consent to a known hazard. That has just gone out with the Dark Ages," says McKone. "With asbestos workers, we can't just say, 'Oh, there's asbestos here, sign off and there's not a problem.'"

The Moorhead City Council is likely to pass a smoking ban in restaurants. The lone voice speaking against the ban is council member John Rowell.

In no industry can we ask employees to waive their consent to a known hazard. That has just gone out with the Dark Ages.
- Pat McKone, American Lung Association

Rowell says the studies he's reviewed amount to circumstantial evidence. Rowell says there is conflicting information available, and he cites a study conducted on flight attendants by German health officials.

"The conclusion is that there were no increases in disease among those flight attendants who were exposed in their place of work to second-hand smoke," says Rowell.

Rowell says the issue is not about public health.

"It's about the attempt by people -- who believe they know better than we do -- how to run our lives," says Rowell.

Rowell believes the Moorhead City Council will ban smoking in local restaurants. But he says it's only a matter of time before the ban is applied to bars. And he says the movement to ban smoking won't stop there. He believes anti-tobacco groups will target other areas like city parks for smoking bans.

Council member Nancy Otto says the anti-smoking movement is gaining momentum. Otto says support for a smoking ban has strong grassroots support. She says only two people have spoken to her who oppose the ordinance in Moorhead.

"It's coming from all age groups. It doesn't seem to matter if it's from high school on up through, well into retirement years," says Otto. "It seems to be a broad spectrum."

The movement to ban smoking in restaurants and bars is not limited to northern Minnesota. A group in Freeborn County, in southern Minnesota, is pushing for a smoking ban that includes bars, restaurants and bowling alleys. There's also a bill introduced in the Minnesota Legislature that would ban smoking in all public places, including bars and restaurants.

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