Anti-smoking law to expand Oct. 1
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's pioneering 32-year-old anti-smoking law gets a facelift Oct. 1. That is when the Freedom to Breathe Act takes effect, banning smoking from almost all indoor areas other than homes and private vehicles. Most affected will b...
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's pioneering 32-year-old anti-smoking law gets a facelift Oct. 1.
That is when the Freedom to Breathe Act takes effect, banning smoking from almost all indoor areas other than homes and private vehicles. Most affected will be restaurants, bars and private clubs, many of which fought implementation of the law earlier this year over fears it would hurt business.
Those getting ready for the strict smoking ban report no problems as the start date nears, and a relatively few questions, after a loud legislative debate earlier this year.
"They grumble, but they adapt," said Bob Moffet of the state American Lung Association chapter.
"My guess is in three to six months, people are going to be wondering why we didn't do this earlier," added Pat McCone, an American Lung Association official based in Duluth.
John Stieger of the Minnesota Health Department said tens of thousands of information packets have been distributed by state, local and private health officials.
"We are also directly contacting 7,000 food, beverage and lodging establishments to remind them of the new law," Stieger said.
Many non-smokers will notice no difference when the new law kicks in. Minnesota's original Indoor Clean Air Act greatly restricted smoking in public places in 1975, leading the way for many states to follow suit. Since then, other states have enacted laws even stricter.
"What this is, really, is closing the last loophole in the nation's first anti-smoking law," Moffett said. "We fell behind a bit, and now we are updating the law."
Updating that law drew heated opposition earlier this year when lawmakers debated the issue. With Gov. Tim Pawlenty's backing, legislators passed the new measure over protests, mostly from bar owners who expect business to dramatically drop.
The most vocal opponent has seen nothing since the bill's passage to relieve her fears.
In recent years, bars have closed after Minneapolis and St. Paul enacted their own smoking bans, former bar owner Sue Jeffers said. That proves bar owners' worries are legitimate, she added.
"With 120-plus businesses having gone under (and all the jobs that went with them) in part or all because of the existing smoking bans they have good reason to worry," Jeffers said.
Non-smokers will not flock to bars in large enough numbers to replace smokers who will visit bars for shorter periods or just not go there at all, Jeffers said.
American Indian-owned casinos -- where smoking is allowed -- and bars without smoking restrictions across state lines will benefit from the new law, she added.
While most of the discussion has been about bars, restaurants and private clubs -- including military groups such as American Legion halls -- other organizations also will be affected.
For instance, McCone said, there are Wal-Mart stores with two employee lounges -- one for smokers and one for non-smokers. The smoking lounges will have to disappear.
"Any workplace that employs two or more people is affected," she said. "There are more of them than we realize."
An Alcoholics Anonymous leader asked if his meetings would need to be smoke free. The answer was, "Yes."
Even work vehicles must be smoke free if there is more than one person inside. So must a home office if more than one person works there or customers visit there.
At least eight cities and counties have stricter ordinances that will remain after the law takes effect.
Lake County, for instance, approved a smoking ban ordinance that also starts Oct. 1. It outlaws smoking within 10 feet of building entrances; the new state law does nothing to regulate smoking outdoors.
Anti-smoking organizations are bracing for an expected influx of people asking for help to quit smoking.
Combined with a recent cigarette fee increase, the smoking ban could convince people to kick the habit.
"It is one of the few things that causes large numbers of people to quit," Moffet said. "I expect the numbers will be dramatic for Minnesota."