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Moorhead passes smoking ban in all public workplaces
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Ralph's, a bar in Moorhead, is one of the many establishments which would have to ban smoking under an ordinance passed by the city council. It is scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1. (MPR Photo/Bob Reha)
The Moorhead City Council has approved a smoking ban that would make it illegal to smoke in all public indoor workplaces. Moorhead is the latest community to pass a ban. Duluth, Cloquet and Moose Lake have smoking bans. Olmsted County, which includes the city of Rochester, has a county-wide ban. Supporters of the ban are hopeful it will prompt officials in neighboring communities in North Dakota to take similar action.

Moorhead, Minn. — Moorhead's city council passed the smoking ban on a 5-3 vote, despite Mayor Mark Voxland's threat to veto it. Voxland wanted the council to wait for officials in neighboring Fargo to act on a measure to restrict indoor smoking. Voxland dropped his veto threat once the measure was amended.

"The only caveat is that it will take affect Sept. 1," Voxland said. "But it will be brought back to the council to look at, if the city of Fargo doesn't adopt a very similar ordinance."

The Moorhead ordinance bans smoking in bars, and that's upsetting to Moorhead bar owners. They fear the ban will hurt business. Chad, who declined to give his last name, sits on a stool in a Moorhead bar. He says the ordinance might force him to take his business to a Fargo bar.

California passed hundreds of local ordinances before they were able to convince state legislators to do the same. We're certainly relying on that advocacy model here in Minnesota.
- Jill Birnbaum, American Heart Association

"For example, if North Dakota still allowed smoking in liquor establishments, I might tend to go over to North Dakota and frequent places over there, rather than coming to Minnesota, where there is a smoking ban in effect," Chad said.

Officials in neighboring Fargo, North Dakota, are divided over whether bars should be included in a ban. But in the recent city elections, candidates supporting a smoking ban were elected. Those opposing the ban, including one incumbent, were defeated.

Linda Coates, a new member of the Fargo City Commission, campaigned in support of a smoking ban. Coates predicts Fargo officials will follow Moorhead's lead.

"I'm really encouraged by their action," Coates said. "I think at this point it just came down to who is going to get to it first. Because I think Fargo is ready to pass a smoking ban as well."

People around the state are watching what's happening in Fargo-Moorhead closely. They say each community that passes a ban is further proof that smoking is a public health hazard and something that should be closely regulated.

Jill Birnbaum, spokeswoman for the American Heart Association, says as more cities approve smoking bans, it will be easier to force statewide action.

"California passed hundreds of local ordinances before they were able to convince state legislators to do the same," Birnbaum said. "We're certainly relying on that advocacy model here in Minnesota."

State lawmakers haven't taken any action on a statewide smoking ban. Bills proposed in the most recent legislative session never came out of committee. Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, says the state shouldn't be involved in this debate. He says any decisions regarding smoking bans should be made by local government officials.

"Communities all over the state keep arguing over not having the state make decisions for them," Lanning said. "They want local control. Here's a good example of it. Let the local communities make that decision, decide whether or not they want to put in some kind of a ban."

Lanning expects the issue will come before state lawmakers again. But he doesn't think there is enough support for a statewide ban to pass.

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