Renville County Board says it plans to back off expanded version of statewide smoking ban
OLIVIA -- Renville County is backing off from a proposal to adopt an expanded version of Minnesota's smoke-free law. The Renville County commissioners indicated at their meeting Tuesday that they will not adopt a proposed resolution that would ha...
OLIVIA -- Renville County is backing off from a proposal to adopt an expanded version of Minnesota's smoke-free law.
The Renville County commissioners indicated at their meeting Tuesday that they will not adopt a proposed resolution that would have banned smoking outside of county buildings as well as inside of them.
Instead, the commissioners indicated that they favored a policy change that would call for developing designated smoking areas outside of county buildings.
It is modeled after a similar approach used in Stearns County. Commissioner John Stahl said Stearns County has built small, outdoor areas for smokers that are screened and discreet.
With the designated areas available, there has been no need to police against the practice of smokers congregating outside doorways, according to Stahl.
"Nothing looks worse to me than seeing a bunch of cigarettes dumped (outside a doorway)," Stahl said.
The commissioners appear to favor this carrot versus the stick approach to smoking. They cited their concerns about the difficulty of enforcing an outdoor smoking ban and their reluctance to make it a county ordinance. Commissioner Paul Setzepfandt said he preferred to offer designated smoking areas and allow people to make their own choice to use them, rather than adopting more regulations.
The Renville County Alliance for Prevention of Alcohol and Drugs had recommended a resolution banning smoking outdoors on county property, with the exception of parks. Along with the dangers of second-hand smoke, the group expressed concerns about the appearance of smokers outside of county doors.
But the commissioners also heard concerns from county department heads about the implications of an expanded smoking ban.
Court Administrator Susan Stahl said her department would face problems when jurors want to exercise their right to smoke. It would become very difficult to segregate jurors from other parties in a case if they all must leave county property to smoke.
Sheriff Jerry Agre told the commissioners that the ability to offer a cigarette can be an important tool for law officers. There are many situations where the offer of a cigarette is all it takes to calm an unruly person just taken into custody.
Also, the sheriff said the offer of a cigarette can be what it takes for a suspect to cooperate and speak with investigators.
Agre also voiced concerns about taking away smokers' rights. He is skeptical about statistics on the health dangers of second hand smoke, particularly in the outdoors. He quoted Mark Twain as stating: "There are three kinds of lies. Lies, damn lies, and statistics."
Renville County was awarded funding to reduce alcohol, tobacco and other drug use by youth due to studies showing high use rates, Alicia Spencer, coordinator of the Renville Alcohol and Drug Coalition, told the commissioners. She also urged the commissioners to consider the rights of non-smokers to clean air.
Other supporters of an expanded ban pointed out that the Kandiyohi County Health and Service facility bans smoking on its grounds with few compliance issues.
The state law banning indoor smoking takes effect on Oct. 1. Renville County had intended to adopt its own expanded resolution to become effective on the same date.