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Editorial: Keep smoking ban for sake of public health

Publication Date: 2011-01-28
  • Author:Editorial
  • Publication:Rochester Post-Bulletin

We hear far too much about acrimony and partisan discord in Congress and the Minnesota Legislature -- so much that it's easy to forget those times when lawmakers on both sides of the aisle work together to pass important legislation that improves the general welfare.

The statewide workplace smoking ban is one such law. Passed in 2007, this law made bars and restaurants safer places to work or enjoy an evening with family and friends. Since the ban took place, the smoking rate among Minnesota adults has fallen from 20 percent to 17 percent, according to the Lung Association of Minnesota. Wisconsin followed Minnesota's lead last summer with a similar ban, and South Dakota voters overwhelmingly approved a smoking ban in bars and restaurants in a referendum on the ballot in November. The new law took effect immediately.

Apparently, none of that matters to Rep. Tom Hackbarth, a Republican from Cedar who has introduced legislation to partially repeal Minnesota's workplace smoking ban. His bill would let bar patrons light up again, provided that the business eventually installs an appropriate ventilation system...

We urge all of them to oppose Hackbarth's bill. Smoking kills people. Secondhand smoke poses a threat to other patrons and to bar employees who might not have any other job opportunities. Olmsted County led the way in the fight for smoke-free workplaces, and the Legislature shouldn't even consider moving backward on this issue.

And don't be fooled by Hackbarth's mention of improved ventilation in bars. For businesses that get more than 80 percent of their revenue from alcohol sales, the new clean-air systems wouldn't be mandatory until 2017...

But here are some numbers to consider. A study published in the Journal of Public Health Management Practice found that since the ban, employment in Minneapolis bars is up nearly 6 percent, and restaurant employment is up 3 percent. In other words, people are still going to bars, and they're still eating out.

The workplace smoking ban was an example of legislative tough love. Now that healthier, cleaner indoor air has become the norm in Minnesota, there's no reason to return to the days when non-smokers smelled like an ash tray after having a late-night beer with a few friends.