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In smoking ban debate, patrons will vote with their feet
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Tom Sullivan and Sue Bennett of Minneapolis say the smoke-free atmosphere at Bobino Cafe keeps them coming back. "We would not go into a smoking bar," Sullivan said. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
Members of the Minneapolis City Council will introduce a smoking ban ordinance on Friday, which would ban smoking in all bars, restaurants, and night clubs. There is little agreement among customers or business people on the proposal.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Proponents of the smoking ban say it's inevitable. It's a nationwide trend. If it can happen in New York and California, it can be done in Minneapolis, they say.

But getting there could take convincing for critics like Greg Mackenzie.

While puffing on his cigar at the Times Bar and Café in northeast Minneapolis, a waiter interrupts him to say his smoke is bothering some women sitting nearby.

"I have become kind of a social piranha (sic) because I'm smoking a cigar, or if I was smoking a cigarette it would be the same thing," Mackenzie said. "Whether or not they were getting second-hand smoke, the issue is they don't want any smoke, they don't want anybody smoking in a space even adjacent to them."

Mackenzie opposes a smoking ban in Minneapolis. If it does pass, he says he will take his business elsewhere.

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The possible loss of business is a key concern voiced by anti-ban groups and some restaurant owners.

But owners who have already gone smoke-free in Minneapolis say business is good.

Peter Karihara owns Jet Set in the Warehouse District, thought to be the only smoke-free cocktails-only bar in Minneapolis. He says since opening in 2001, Jet Set has successfully cultivated a market.

"We were marketing towards the clientele that did say we don't go out because it is very smoky," Karihara said.

Karihara also owns a wine bar and a café where smoking is permitted. He says he supports a ban in Minneapolis because it would level the playing field among bars and restaurants.

According to the Association of Non-Smokers Minnesota, there are already about 100 smoke-free restaurants and bars, not counting fast food chains.

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Bobino Cafe in northeast Minneapolis went smoke-free a couple of years ago. The owner says he did so because the non-smoking clientele were the most vocal about wanting the restaurant to ban cigarettes inside. Smoking patrons can smoke on the patio.

Enjoying a glass of wine at Bobino's bar, Tom Sullivan and Sue Bennett of Minneapolis say the smoke-free atmosphere keeps them coming back.

"We come here frequently. We would seek out non-smoking bars if we could," Sullivan said. "We would not go into a smoking bar."

Critics of a smoking ban say restaurants that have voluntarily gone smoke-free are able to accommodate people who want a smoke-free environment. They say the market should run its course, and let individual businesses decide.

Ban supporters say smoking in restaurants is a public health issue, and the government has a role in protecting worker health.

Times Café bartender Nate Kahle says thanks, but no thanks, to concerns for his health.

"You have to remember that it's a bar. People smoke and drink at bars. That's what they do. We provide an atmosphere for that," said Kahle. "So yes, it would be beneficial to my health not to work around second-hand smoke. But on the flip side, this is the path that I've chosen, and this is what I do, you know. And that's a calculated risk in this profession."

Minneapolis City Council members held a news conference to promote the smoking ban ordinance. So far, six out of the 13 council members support the ban.

Ninth ward councilman Gary Schiff said in the past couple of days since the proposal became public, he and other members have received numerous e-mails and phone calls.

"While opinions are sharply divided on this issue, they are not divided equally," Schiff said. "For every one e-mail I've gotten in opposition to this ban, I've gotten three more in favor."

The ban will be introduced to the full council on Friday. A public hearing on the issue is expected on June 7. The City of St. Paul is considering a similar ban.

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