Area News | Home | Marketplace | Community

Return to Archived Stories

Paynesville Press - June 29, 2005

Smoke-free ordinance slated for Meeker County board agenda

By Michael Jacobson

A smoke-free ordinance is scheduled to be discussed by the Meeker County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, July 5, and the board could take action on the revised ordinance.

Meeker County held a public hearing about the ordinance in February, and the board decided at that time to see if the Minnesota Legislature would take action on a statewide smoking ban.

A statewide smoke-free law does not appear to be on the radar of the legislature, said county administrator Paul Virnig, after consulting local legislators. Plus, if the special session goes into July, he was told, legislative action would likely be limited to the budget impasse.

The Meeker County Smoke-Free Public Places and Places of Work Ordinance was spearheaded by Citizens for a Smoke-Free Meeker County, a coalition backed by Meeker County Public Health, which has argued for the ordinance on the grounds of public health. The ordinance itself cites non-smoking sections in buildings as not eliminating non-smokers' exposure to second-hand smoke; carcinogens in second-hand smoke being casually related to cancer; and statistics about second-hand smoke being related to heart disease, low birth weight babies, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and bonchitis and pneumonia.

Critics of the proposed ordinance, which was the subject of a three-and-a-half-hour public hearing in February, questioned these statistics and health risks - arguing that most of the health damage done by second-hand smoke occurs in smoking homes, not public buildings - and countered that the ordinance would hurt businesses, especially bars and restaurants, with smoking patrons likely taking their business to places outside the county where they could still smoke if the ordinance would be passed.

Though ban supporters responded at the public hearing that there's a market for smoke-free bars and restaurants, the proposed ordinance has been revised to include an exemption for bars, though not for restaurants.

The proposed ordinance defines "place of work" as "any enclosed, indoor location at which two (2) or more individuals perform at least 2.0 FTEs of any type of service for consideration of payment under any type of employment relationship." An employer may provide a seperate, detached structure solely for the purpose of smoking on work breaks. A "public place" is defined as restaurants, retail stores, offices and other commercial facilities, public conveyances, and educational facilities.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit smoking in places of work and public places as well as within five feet of entrances, exits, open windows, and ventilation intakes. It would take effect in October 2005 if enacted by the Meeker County Board of Commissioners.

It would not apply to private residences (including home offices as long as the resident is the primary user of the office); motor vehicles; guest rooms in places of lodging; and most outdoor spaces.

Bars - defined as on-sale license holders whose liquor sales consist of more than 50 percent of their total gross sales of food and beverages, including sales tax - would be able to apply for an exemption, a new feature in the revised ordinance.

Meeker County has largely modeled this proposed ordinance on one in Olmstead County, said Virnig, and this exemption for bars is a compromise from the concerns from business owners last winter. The application for this exemption would cost $150 and would be due by Saturday, Sept. 10. (Later applicants would have to apply at least 15 days before the exemption took effect.)

Any bar that receives an exemption would need to post the following - "Health Warning: Tobacco Smoke Permitted on Premises" - at all entrances, according to the proposed ordinance.

Other places of work and public places would be required to post "No Smoking" signs; to remove ashtrays; and to ask any person who smokes to stop or to leave and to call law enforcement if they do not comply.

The proposed ordinance sets fines of $300 (for a first offense) and $1,000 (for a previously-convicted offender of the ordinance within a calendar year).

Contact the author at   •   Return to News Menu

Home | Marketplace | Community