Thursday, July 19, 2018
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Smoking bans: Enforcement depends on where you are
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This Minneapolis bar patron is clearly opposed to the smoking ban, which went into effect in bars and restaurants in Minneapolis and four other municipalities at midnight Wednesday night. (MPR Photo/Art Hughes)
Many metro-area smokers now have new restrictions on where they can light up in public. Smoking bans in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, Minneapolis, Bloomington and Golden Valley all restrict smoking in restaurants in bars. Enforcement of the bans is up to each jurisdiction, and each takes a slighly different approach.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Enforcement of all of the bans starts with complaints by patrons. But where it goes from there depends on where you are. In Minneapolis, it's unlikely an individual smoker will ever get cited for a violation. Environmental Safety Director Lori Olson said the first complaint to her office about an establishment will trigger a letter to the bar or restaurant operator.

"If we get a second complaint at the same establishment, an inspector will follow up with an unannounced visit," Olson said. "If signs of smoking are found, a citation will be issued. It's an administrative citation of $200."

Olson said even police officers, inspectors and other city officials who happen to see someone smoking in a restricted place will likely go through the same complaint process as any other citizen.

"We're encouraging all staff that are out -- that could include fire inspectors, a construction inspector -- if they're seeing any violations to call the complaint line as well, and our business licensing department will generate the letters and, if necessary for subsequent violations, penalties," Olson said.

Fines against the bar or restaurant double with each incident. If the owner is negligent or willfully flauts the ban, he risks losing his license.

In Bloomington, which has the most restrictive and far-reaching smoking ban, smokers are subject to a criminal citation. City Attorney David Ornstein said errant smokers could have to cough up real money.

"The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor is $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail," Ornstein said. "In reality, a violation of the no smoking ordinance, first offense is going to result in a fine probably in the area of $300-$400."

You're creating a ban on me, in a private business, with a legal substance and asking me to be the enforcer. It's just really unfair.
- Jeff Moritko, owner of Mayslacks in northeast Minneapolis

Hennepin County's ban also treats smoking violations as misdemeanors. The county rules don't apply in Minneapolis, Bloomington and Golden Valley because those cities have their own ordinances and enforcement capability.

Hennepin Health Inspections Supervisor Lynn Moore said the county intends to focus more on owners rather than patrons. She says if bar customers are bothered by a smoker, they should start by asking the manager to get the smoker to stop.

"If a manager doesn't do that, or ignores it, or says, 'I really don't care,' then that's when a complaint needs to be made with our office," Moore said.

Moore said her staff expects to enforce the ban similar to the way they now enforce the Minnesota Indoor Clean Air Act, passed in 1975, which established separate smoking and non-smoking areas.

In Ramsey County, enforcement is similar. Bar owners face a petty misdemeanor if they ignore warnings from inspectors.

The one common thread of all the new rules is a reliance on the bar owners to police the ban. While officials expect widespread compliance, many bar and restaurant owners are reluctant.

Jeff Moritko owns Mayslacks in northeast Minneapolis. He calls the enforcement a logistical nightmare. He worries he'll have to hire additional staff if it gets out of hand.

"It's going to monopolize bodies," Moritko said. "And all you need is one or two people out of 200 to say, 'I'm not putting my cigarette out.' The frustrating aspect is you're creating a ban on me, in a private business, with a legal substance and asking me to be the enforcer. It's just really unfair."

None of the administrators of the new bans say they expect any significant enforcement problems. All the jurisdictions provide telephone hotlines where patrons can report violations when they see them.