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Minneapolis council passes smoking ban
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Mike Jennings, president of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, opposes the smoking ban. He says many smaller bars are in danger of losing business because their smoking patrons may go elsewhere. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Smokers in Minneapolis have eight months to light up in the city's bars and restaurants. The Minneapolis City Council Friday passed a ban on smoking in bars, restaurants, pool halls and bowling alleys beginning on March 31, 2005. Mayor R.T. Rybak says he supports the measure. The council voted 12-1 on the measure. The overwhelming show of support came after it became evident that attempts to exempt some bars and restaurants from a smoking ban couldn't receive enough votes.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The Minneapolis vote caps off a strong week for supporters of smoking bans. On Monday night, the Bloomington City Council passed an ordinance that would ban smoking in all public indoor spaces, and within 25 feet of entrances, exits and open windows. The Minneapolis proposal doesn't go that far, but it forces bars and restaurants in the state's largest city to ban smoking.

Council member Gary Schiff says the proposal protects wait staff and others who choose to enter those establishments from secondhand smoke.

"This was not motivated by some desire that crept up in the middle of the night to regulate businesses. This was motivated by public health facts," says Schiff.

The vote culminates three months of intense discussion on the issue. City Council members weighed the public health dangers of secondhand smoke versus the possible economic harm to businesses that would be forced to go smoke-free. Supporters of the ban say no major city that has gone smoke-free has seen a decline in food and beverage sales.

This was not motivated by some desire that crept up in the middle of the night to regulate businesses. This was motivated by public health facts.
- Minneapolis City Council member Gary Schiff

Nevertheless, several city council members expressed concern that neighborhood bars and restaurants would be put at an economic disadvantage if all bars and restaurants were forced to go smoke-free.

Council member Barbara Johnson says she's concerned that a full ban would put local neighborhood bar owners out of business. She says larger bars and restaurants in more popular parts of the city will have an easier time absorbing the impact.

"We also are a vibrant community, because we have many small businesses in our neighborhoods that would be impacted disproportionately by the ban as proposed," says Johnson. "Those folks operate on extremely narrow margins of profitability."

Johnson, who ended up voting for the overall ban, tried unsuccessfully to water down the proposal. She tried to exempt establishments that sell more alcohol than food from being a part of the ban. Another proposal would have given small bars a one-year grace period before adopting the full ban.

Council member Dan Niziolek says he couldn't support those exemptions, because it would be unfair for certain bar owners to receive special privileges.

"You're saying that you don't want to create a divisive situation and you want support small businesses. But what you're proposing is going to be divisive. Two businesses across the street from each other will have different rules," says Niziolek. "If you want to create an equal playing field for our restaurants and our bars across the city, this will not do it."

Other council members say they fear that those who now frequent downtown clubs and restaurants will choose to go to other cities that don't have smoking bans. Council President Paul Ostrow says a very restrictive ban in Minneapolis would prompt other cities and counties to adopt measures with exemptions.

"We have an opportunity to move forward with our hospitality industry. We have a chance to move forward with something that they will go out and work with us to find a regional solution -- and we're dangerously close to saying no to that," says Ostrow.

In the end, all council members except for Barrett Lane voted in favor of the proposal.

Several city council members say they believe the March 31, 2005, deadline will give bar owners enough time to prepare for the ban. Several public health organizations say they intend to work with the hospitality association to market Minneapolis' bars and restaurants.

Mike Jennings, president of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, says his organization is disappointed with the vote but will work hard to keep customers.

"I'm immensely concerned with what's going to happen in the future here, with the small restaurants and small bars," says Jennings. "But we have time to work with this to try to figure out how we can get through this whole issue."

Jennings says he's hopeful the state Legislature will pass a smoking ban so there will be a uniform ban across the state.

St. Paul city council member Dave Thune says he intends to ask the City Council override Mayor Kelly's veto of a smoking ban in that city at next week's meeting. The St. Paul ban would forbid smoking in bars and restaurants, but would allow for separate enclosed smoking rooms. Thune says it's possible the council could remove the smoking room portion of the proposal at a later date.

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