Area News | Home | Marketplace | Community

Return to Archived Stories

Paynesville Press - December 12, 2001

Changes proposed to indoor air rules

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has published a set of proposed changes to state rules that govern smoking in public places and places of work, opening a 30-day period for public comment on the new rules.

MDH has been conducting a comprehensive review of the rules it uses to enforce the 26-year-old Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act (MCIAA). The review, which has been under way since July 1999, was undertaken in response to changes that were made in the act during the 1999 legislative session.

Although public discussion of the new rules has thus far tended to focus on how they will affect restaurants, the proposed changes are much broader than that, according to Laura Oatman, supervisor of the Indoor Air Unit at MDH.

"We've proposed some changes in ventilation requirements for restaurants, and that part of this project has tended to draw most of the attention from the media and the public," Oatman said, "But the task at hand is broader and more comprehensive than that. The proposed changes will also affect the workplace, retail stores, and lodging establishments."

The review process included an extensive examination of the available scientific literature on the health effects of environmental tobacco smoke, she noted. The new rules were drafted with the help of an advisory committee that included major stakeholders affected by the rule changes.

Among the proposed changes are:
•New restaurants will have two options - either go completely smoke free, or take steps to ensure that patrons in the nonsmoking area are not exposed to air from the smoking section.

New restaurants that opt to have a smoking section must: (1) install a ventilation system that keeps the air pressure lower in the smoking section than in the rest of the building; (2) make sure the ventilation system is designed so that air from the smoking section is always released to the outside of the building - never recirculated into the nonsmoking area; and (3) either wall off the smoking section completely from the rest of the restaurant or use a ventilation system that only allows air to move from the nonsmoking area to the smoking area.

•Existing restaurants will be able to retain their current arrangements for smoking and nonsmoking patrons - but they will need to eliminate any seating in the current "buffer zone" between the smoking and nonsmoking areas. They also must post signs warning nonsmokers about possible exposure to second-hand smoke.

Hotels, Motels, and Resorts
•Like restaurants, lodging establishments can either go entirely smoke-free or designate areas where smoking is permitted. Smoking permitted areas can include private, enclosed offices; designated areas of employee lunch rooms or lounges; designated portions of common areas like lobbies, pool areas, or game rooms; designated portions of restaurants; and bars located on the premises. Common areas can't be designated as "smoking-permitted" in their entirety.

Ventilation and barrier requirements for "smoking-permitted" areas would be similar to those for new restaurants. MCIAA rules do not apply to individual guest rooms, or to conference halls used for private functions.

Retail Stores
•Under the new rules, retail stores can go completely smoke-free, or restrict smoking to designated areas. They can allow smoking in enclosed, private offices or designated areas of employee lunch rooms or lounges. Smoking can also be permitted in a customer area, but only if the same goods or services are also available in a smoke-free area.

Ventilation and barrier requirements for smoking-permitted areas in retail stores would be similar to those for new restaurants. The new rules would not apply to establishments that derive 90 percent or more of their revenue from the sale of tobacco products.

Places of Work
The proposed rules would, for the first time, apply the same workplace restrictions to office buildings and facilities like warehouses or factories. Once again, places of work can go smoke-free or restrict smoking to designated areas.

Smoking-permitted areas can include enclosed, private offices or designated areas in employee lounges or lunch rooms. If there is no lounge or lunch room, one smoking-permitted area can be designated for every 20,000 square feet of floor space. And, once again, ventilation and barrier requirements for smoking areas would be similar to those for new restaurants.

The comment period for the proposed rule changes runs through Wednesday, Jan. 2. Comments or inquiries can be directed to Georg Fischer: by mail at the Indoor Air Unit, Minnesota Department of Health, 121 E 7th Place, Box 64975, St. Paul 55164-0975; by phone at 651-215-0932; by fax at 651-215-0975; or by e-mail at georg.fischer@health.state.

A hearing on the rules will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 30, if at least 25 people submit a written request to MDH. To be considered, a request for hearing must be in the hands of MDH staff by the end of the comment period.

A number of documents relating to the proposed rule changes are available for review on the MDH website at divs/eh/aialr/iair/mciaarule.

Contact the author at   •   Return to News Menu

Home | Marketplace | Community