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Minneapolis moves closer to smoking ban
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Dario Anselmo, front left, owns the Fine Line Music Cafe in downtown Minneapolis. He attended the hearing, saying while he opposes smoking, he also oppposes a citywide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
A Minneapolis City council committee has approved an ordinance that would ban smoking in workplaces, including bars and restaurants. The committee voted Monday after nearly three hours of public testimony. Like a similar hearing in front of the St. Paul city council last month, arguments for and against the ban were based on health, economics and constitutional rights. The full council will vote on the ordinance later this month.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Nearly 50 people testified in front of the Minneapolis City Council's Health and Human Services committee Monday afternoon. The issue of health was the predominant argument used by people supporting the ban.

"The medical community is very familiar with the clearly identified health risks associated with second hand smoke," Dr. Anne Murray told the committee.

Murray and other doctors and health practioners told councilmembers that smoking bans help smokers quit and they improve the health of non-smokers. She says data collected in other cities with smoking bans bear that out.

"In the Helena, Montana study, the elimination of cigarette smoke led to a rapid, approximately 40 percent reduction in hospital admissions for heart attacks -- during the time the ordinance was in affect," Murray says. "Shortly thereafter, after it was rescinded, admissions for heart attacks rose again."

I have a sign right in my front door designating my building as a smoking area. If you as a non-smoker choose to walk up to my front door, read that sign and open the door and come in, then you agree to the terms I've set as a businessman.
- John Sorenson, owner of a south Minneapolis bowling alley

No one, not even the opponents of the Minneapolis ban, argued against the data on the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke. But many bar and restaurant owners and managers who spoke against the ban say both patrons and workers have a choice.

"We as Americans have a right to make our own decisions," says John Sorenson, owner of a south Minneapolis bowling alley. "I have a sign right in my front door designating my building as a smoking area. If you as a non-smoker choose to walk up to my front door, read that sign and open the door and come in, then you agree to the terms I've set as a businessman."

Sorenson, who says he quit smoking 12 years ago, says he's offended at the prospect of someone telling him how to run his business. He says nearly 30 percent of his customers are smokers, and a citywide ban could put him out of business.

"My revenues would be affected dramatically if I were to lose just 50 percent of those smokers to another center," he says. "I've got five other bowling centers within 10 minutes of my front door. They're not going to quit smoking, they're just going to go to the suburbs and spend their money."

Other business owners and hospitality industry representatives who spoke at the hearing expressed similar concerns about a citywide ban. Many argued for a statewide ban that would level the playing field for all restaurants and bars in the metro area.

A statewide ban probably won't happen anytime soon, says Rep. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park. He says a similar bill he proposed in a House committee last session didn't get a hearing.

"We must build the pressure from below to get a statewide ban passed. (In) California, the statewide ban was passed after thousands of communities passed local bans. In New York, New York City led the way before the state, on a bipartisan basis, passed their ban."

Representatives from the St. Paul and Bloomington city councils told the committee they're trying to pass smoking bans and make them take effect with the Minneapolis ordinance. St. Paul City council member Dave Thune predicts that the ban will pass in St. Paul.

Bloomington, with the I-494 bar and restaurant strip and the Mall of America, is another metro area entertainment attraction. Bloomington city councilmember Steve Peterson says he predicts passage there as well.

The proposed ordinance for Minneapolis is expected to go to the full council later this month. Six of the 13 councilmembers sponsored the bill. It will only need one more vote for passage.

If passed, the Minneapolis ordinance would go into affect Sept. 1.

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