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Renville County considers tobacco ban on its grounds

OLIVIA -- Renville County is looking at banning smoking on its grounds.

Members of the county's wellness committee presented the proposal Tuesday to the Board of Commissioners, arguing that it was a step toward protecting workers' health from secondhand smoke.

It could also lead smokers to reduce their use of tobacco, and possibly nudge a few along the road toward quitting, added committee members Gail Miller, county recorder, and Michelle Breidenbach, coordinator with the Statewide Health Improvement Plan.

"It's nasty,'' said Miller, a former smoker, of the secondhand smoke many now encounter. Miller told the commissioners that there is a growing body of research showing that secondhand smoke adversely affects non-smokers.

The county banned smoking within its buildings and vehicles in 2004, but allows it outdoors on county property at designated sites. What were once popular sites for noon lunches during warm weather are now locations where smokers congregate, according to health committee members.

County board chairman John Stahl -- also a former smoker -- said the total ban could pose problems. He noted that it might push smokers to sidewalks in front of private properties neighboring the county properties.

He voiced concerns about the ban's impact on some departments, such as law enforcement or health and human services, where stressful situations are often part of the work day. He also pointed to the difficulties it might pose for jurors.

Rules on smoking on outside grounds vary from county to county. The Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners recently debated whether to restrict smoking to designated areas. The issue was raised over concerns about smokers congregating outside of courthouse doorways in Granite Falls.

Kandiyohi County adopted a complete smoking ban on its grounds in 2002, and has not reported any major problems with it, according to the committee members.

If the ban is adopted, committee members recommend delaying its implementation in Renville County until Jan. 1, 2012.

Smoking would continue to be allowed outdoors in county parks.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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