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Posted on Wed, Sep. 15, 2004 Modified smoking ban wins approval Rules on restaurants will begin March 31 BY TIM NELSON and DAVID HAWLEY Pioneer Press Ramsey County restaurants will go smoke-free next spring, after commissioners' unanimous vote Tuesday to ban smoking in establishments that do most of their business in food sales. "I'd rather see the glass half full than half empty," said sponsor Rafael Ortega of St. Paul. He had pushed for a total ban and even called for St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly to sign such a ban for the city. "While there is still debate in other places, we are moving ahead," Ortega said. The ban will cover nearly 1,400 licensed establishments in the county, including St. Paul, where Kelly vetoed a more stringent ban Monday. Establishments that do more than half of their business as liquor sales will soon be able to seek exemptions from the ban from the Ramsey County Department of Public Health. In Olmsted County, the other county in Minnesota that has enacted such a ban, about 10 percent of establishments still permit smoking. In a statement, Kelly praised the board's action as "a sound, workable and reasonable solution" and said the ban, which will take effect March 31, would eliminate "almost 90 percent of secondhand smoke in St. Paul." County Public Health Director Rob Fulton said his department will be contacting all affected businesses by mail, explaining the exemption process and how bars will be able to apply. Fulton said businesses will have to provide the same annual sales tax report they give to the state to show they qualify for a smoking permit. There will probably also be a processing fee, possibly between $100 and $200, for bars that qualify for an exemption. "We don't have the process finally set yet," Fulton said. But he added that he hopes exemptions will be approved early in 2005, long before the ban goes into effect. As expected, Commissioner Sue Haigh, whose mother died recently of smoking-related emphysema, supported the ordinance despite voting against it in the past. She had been holding out for a total ban. "It just doesn't make sense to me from a public health perspective," she told her colleagues before the vote. "This really seems to be a beginning point and not an ending point." Commissioner Janice Rettman said she was supporting the ban reluctantly. "We've realized many of the financial realities," she told her colleagues. She noted that many were concerned that a total ban would cut into charitable gambling revenues that finance youth and nonprofit programs in her district. "At least for this moment in time, they'll accept the challenges and opportunities of this, so I'm going to support it," Rettman said. "It's a mixed blessing," said Jeanne Weigum, president of the Association for NonsmokersMinnesota, after the board vote in St. Paul. She hailed the total bans already passed in Bloomington and Minneapolis and under consideration Tuesday by Hennepin County commissioners. Supporters of those bans said they realized that Ramsey County's action may prompt other jurisdictions to reconsider their total prohibitions but said they were prepared to defend the bans. "We're ready for it to be back," said Corrine Ertz, spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society, outside the Ramsey County Board meeting. "The public is very supportive of this." Meanwhile, in Hennepin County, a proposal that would ban all smoking in restaurants and bars is moving toward an expected Sept. 28 vote. Supporters think it will pass by a narrow vote, though only two members of the sevenmember board have openly endorsed it Gail Dorfman, a DFLer, and County Chair Randy Johnson, a Republican. A public hearing Tuesday before the county commissioners was dominated by supporters of the ban, many of them representing health organizations. Private citizens and members of the hospitality industry also testified. Pat Rickert, who has pulmonary disease, showed the commissioners her portable oxygen machine and called it her "constant companion." "I have this because I smoked," she said. "But my mother never smoked. She got emphysema from secondhand smoke and carried one of these to her grave." But the commissioners also heard from Rand Haglund, a member of the Brooklyn Park City Council, who presented a petition against the smoking ban and noted that his city had unanimously adopted a resolution against the ban on Aug. 23. "If you want to institute a ban, the only fair way is to put it in front of the people who vote," Haglund said, adding that his constituents "don't think it's right of the county to come in and influence their personal lives." Gary Schiff, a member of the Minneapolis City Council, urged the commissioners not to allow a "loophole" for bars that depend heavily on liquor sales. He said such a measure would encourage such steps as drink specials to push up liquor-sale percentages and would be an "enforcement nightmare." The commissioners also heard from Michelle Berringer, who works as a server in a Minneapolis restaurant. "Tonight I will be at work and I am scheduled to work in the smoking section," Berringer said. "I will probably go home feeling very ill. It will probably take me all day tomorrow to clear out my lungs and feel better." But Phil Weber, whose family has operated the Park Tavern in St. Louis Park for more than 50 years, predicted that a smoking ban would cause a lot of hardship in the hospitality business especially for independent business owners. "Unless you want all Olive Gardens and Applebee's, you've got to do something for the independent industry," he said, adding that "smoking is part of the fiber of our business." WHAT RAMSEY COUNTY'S SMOKING BAN WILL DO Ramsey County's new smoking ban, which goes into effect March 31, will: Outlaw smoking in establishments that do more than 50 percent of their business in food sales. Olmsted County already does. End indoor public smoking in Roseville, Shoreview and White Bear Township, which essentially limit liquor licenses to restaurants. Include an exemption for private clubs. Require bars to apply for an exemption from the ban annually and require them to submit sales tax data to the county. Allow restaurants to wall off their bar areas into separate establishments that allow smoking. Probably cover all but about 80 bars in St. Paul and 60 others in the suburbs, if about 10 percent of the county's 1,369 establishments get exemptions, as happened in Olmsted County. No one will know exactly which bars are affected until their owners and managers start applying to allow smoking. It's possible some qualifying establishments may not seek to permit smoking. Allow police to cite individual smokers who do not comply with proprietors' requests to stop. Establishments that do not comply will be warned, then subjected to legal action by the county's Public Health Department.

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