County discusses how to address cigarette littering

As the statewide "Freedom to Breathe Act" went into effect on Monday, prohibiting smoking inside any public place or place of work in Minnesota, the fact remains that approximately one-fourth of Minnesotans still smoke.

As the statewide "Freedom to Breathe Act" went into effect on Monday, prohibiting smoking inside any public place or place of work in Minnesota, the fact remains that approximately one-fourth of Minnesotans still smoke.

"And just where are they putting their litter?" posed County Recycling Coordinator Heather Cunningham to the Carlton County Committee of the Whole on Tuesday.

"Eighteen percent of all litter ends up in our lakes and streams," Cunningham continued, "and cigarette filters are made of plastic, which does not biodegrade. It's my job to see that the purity of our lakes and streams is maintained, and if cigarettes are being disposed of indiscriminately on the ground, that concerns me."

Cunningham told county commissioners and department heads that she is in the process of developing a Cigarette Litter Prevention Plan and expressed her intention to meet with city, township and county officials to seek input for the plan.

"The purpose will be to assess 'transition points' where a smoker must extinguish a cigarette before proceeding," she said, "such as outside stores, bars, restaurants and public buildings."


Cunningham explained that whatever data she gathers will be used to identify if there is a need for ash receptacles at such transition points, as well as possible "smoking structures," adding she hopes to research any loans that might be available to help construct them.

"Smoking structures" are buildings separate from the employer's main building that are intended expressly to accommodate smokers. Cunningham explained that state law prohibits any such outdoor "smoking structures" to have more than 50 percent wall space (including the roof and any screened areas), or it is considered an "indoor area" and must therefore fall under the restrictions of the new smoking prohibition law.

Carlton County Commissioner Ted Pihlman voiced the fact he objects to having the county play any role in funding such structures.

"I am opposed to expending any economic development grant funds to construct smoking structures," Pihlman said. "I think that should be up to the business people themselves."

Carlton County Economic Development Director Pat Oman clarified that the county has a revolving loan fund available to businesses that is an appropriate fit for projects such as the smoking shelters, stating that no grant money need be expended.

Cunningham also broached the subject of possibly seeking outside grant funding to purchase pocket ash trays and distribute them to Carlton County bars and restaurants to help contain the tobacco refuse of patrons who go outside to smoke. She said one of the primary sources of such funding is through the "Keep Minnesota Beautiful" program, funded by Philip Morris USA. She questioned how commissioners felt about accepting funding from a tobacco company to utilize for such purposes.

Though some commissioners expressed the opinion that accepting funding from a tobacco company would create "mixed messages," Pihlman stated he would not be opposed to accessing the funding as long as it has no strings attached and it will help mediate the issue of tobacco litter.

Cunningham stated she hopes to launch an informative campaign of posters and radio and newspaper advertising to help people understand the seriousness of the tobacco litter problem, especially since smokers, in many cases, are now having to smoke outdoors.


In other business to come before the committee, Joanne Erspamer and Marilyn Cluka of Carlton County Public Health presented an update on the county's emergency preparedness planning. The county has been involved in such planning since 2001 and originally began with the help of bioterrorism funding. Erspamer said a countywide planning committee was formed in 2003-2004, adopting an "all hazards" approach.

In 2005-2006, with the pending advent of the influenza pandemic, Cluka said the county adjusted its planning accordingly to zero in on that eventuality and succeeded in developing a system of coordinated response with other agencies throughout northeastern Minnesota as well.

Today, Cluka said with the threat of an influenza pandemic still on the far horizon, the county has gone back to an "all hazards" approach and has partnered with the Fond du Lac Reservation, area schools, hospitals, clinics, EMS providers, veterinarians, media outlets, faith communities, the Human Development Center, Upper Lakes Foods, law enforcement and the County Health Board, with 20-30 people regularly attending monthly planning meetings.

She announced that a two-hour training session is planned for Oct. 29 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the County Transportation Building for any volunteers interested in learning more about the National Incident Management System, geared toward improving coordination of response to human health outbreaks, hazardous incidents, terrorist attacks and other regional or national security events.

Pine Journal Publisher/ reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: .

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