County sets public hearing on smoke-free ordinance

The Carlton County Board of Commissioners is headed back to the drawing board regarding one aspect of the new smoke-free ordinance that apparently hasn't set well with some constituents.

The Carlton County Board of Commissioners is headed back to the drawing board regarding one aspect of the new smoke-free ordinance that apparently hasn't set well with some constituents.

At its Tuesday meeting this week, the board set a public hearing date for Monday, Aug. 27, to field input on the ordinance's 25-foot rule.

Under scrutiny is the section of the ordinance that prohibits smoking within 25 feet of the entrance to any public building or any of its ventilation points. Though that same stipulation does not exist in the statewide Freedom to Breathe Act, which takes effect Oct. 1, the county is free to enact a stricter version if it so desires.

Reportedly, however, various establishments around the county have expressed difficulty in effectively enforcing the 25-foot no smoking restriction of the ordinance.

"We promised if something wasn't working well, we'd deal with it," stated Board Chair Gordon Aanerud of the county smoke-free ordinance, which went into effect June 1.


Commissioner Ted Pihlman first brought the matter up in response to a letter the board received from Jim Forward, president of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association.

In his letter, Forward acknowledged that while the newly passed statewide smoking ban levels the playing field and is "fair to all, easy to understand and enforce," he said that is not the case in Carlton County.

"The 25-foot restriction is impractical and inconsistent with Minnesota state law," Forward claimed. "Carlton County hospitality businesses are on an island compared to adjacent counties that have no outdoor air restrictions."

He went on to request that the county board support local hospitality businesses by repealing the outdoor air restrictions contained in the ordinance.

"This action will make Carlton County consistent with adjacent counties and the Minnesota statewide smoking ban," he deduced.

Pihlman said he shares some of Forward's concerns, stating, "I'd be real interested in talking about this so that no one can say, 'The county is beating up on us.'"

Commissioner Marv Bodie agreed.

"I think we should take a look at this sooner than later," Bodie stated.


At that point, Pihlman suggested a public hearing be set to field public opinion on the matter.

"It's only the 25-foot rule that is up for discussion," he clarified, "not any other aspect of the ordinance."

Commissioner Dick Brenner said the 25-foot rule has been an issue especially in Cloquet, where patrons at some of the bars have taken their drinks outside with them in order to smoke - which is in violation of the law prohibiting public drinking outside an establishment unless it is in a designated, fenced in area.

"This has been real difficult for them [the bar owners]," said Brenner. "People [who want to smoke] don't understand they can't drink outside."

Brenner said the 25-foot rule compounds the problem, because some of the establishments are so close to the street, and in order to get 25 feet away the patrons must stand out in the street.

"It's a tough one to enforce," agreed Commissioner Mel Tan.

In offering a motion to set a date and time for the public hearing, Pihlman said, "Though this doesn't mean we are necessarily going to change anything, I think we should take a close look at what the state does."

Brenner seconded the motion.


The hearing will be held at the Carlton County Transportation Building on Old Highway 61 south of Highway 210 at 5 p.m., directly following the regularly scheduled county board meeting.

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

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