Hundreds pack hearing on smoking ban ordinance

A standing-room-only crowd packed the Carlton County Transportation building on Monday night to lend input on a proposed county smoking ordinance prohibiting smoking in public places and places of work. Some 200 residents and business people atte...

A standing-room-only crowd packed the Carlton County Transportation building on Monday night to lend input on a proposed county smoking ordinance prohibiting smoking in public places and places of work. Some 200 residents and business people attended the meeting, presided over by Carlton County Board Chair Gordon Aanerud (District 4). Also in attendance were commissioners Ted Pihlman (District 5), Mel Tan (District 3) and Marvin Bodie (District 2).

Twenty-nine constituents addressed the board with comments on the proposed ordinance, which would ban smoking in all public workplaces, including bars, restaurants and private clubs throughout Carlton County. Aanerud said a number of other letters, emails and phone calls were received as well, including a communication from Cromwell Mayor Dick Huhta stating the Cromwell City Council unanimously passed a vote of support for the ordinance at its last meeting.

Comments during the public hearing ranged from erudite to emotional, with the room basically split down the middle between bar owners, hospitality workers and others who oppose the ban and public health workers, medical professionals and others who support it.

"Protecting the public health of the people is the responsibility of government," said Carlton County Public Health Supervisor Terri Allen. "There is no longer any scientific debate or controversy regarding the dangers of secondhand smoke."

Allen went on to say that where smoking ban ordinances have been enacted before, such as in Duluth, Cloquet and Moose Lake, the "fears of the hospitality industry have not been realized," adding that sales tax records show revenues in those areas have been stable or increased since the ordinances were passed. In a representational poll of Carlton County residents, Allen said 67 percent of those polled indicated they "strongly favor" a smoking ban ordinance, while only 14 percent "strongly oppose" it.


Carlton resident Paul Sell was among several who lobbied against the ordinance and in favor of "freedom of choice."

"It should be up to the business owner to decide if they want it," Sell said. "Then, if someone doesn't want to go in there, then don't go in there."

Sell argued that to enforce the ordinance would cost valuable taxpayer dollars and tie up law enforcement officers from attending to more serious crimes.

Former County Commissioner Frank Liupakka, who originated the motion to move forward with a smoking ban proposal last December, related how he's worked most of his life in the family business, where smoking was always "an accepted practice." He said his brother now has emphysema and is on oxygen.

"It is our job to promote the health of our citizens," Liupakka stated. "The debate has gone on long enough."

Both Leo Rentz of Moose Lake and Barbara Ramey said they suffer from frail health conditions that prohibit them from being around smoke.

"I have to avoid it with a passion or I will be sick," said Rentz.

Ramey said she suffers from a rare breathing condition that causes her to lose her voice and 40 percent of her breathing when she's anywhere near anyone who smells of smoke.


"I'm taking a risk I don't normally take just by being here tonight," she said.

Former Carlton VFW Post Commander Mike Lavoie agreed with Sell's stance that businesses and clubs should be allowed to decide on the matter of allowing smoking on their own.

"As vets, in the past the government has made decisions for us all along," he said. "Now, we want to be able to make our own decisions."

Bill Gordon of Carlton disagreed.

"You've hit a real sore spot," he charged. "I am a disabled vet, and after what I've been through, I don't want to go in the VFW now and be choked to death."

Gordon's remark drew a round of applause from supporters.

A number of bar owners addressed the fear of lost business - and lost profits - if a smoking ban were enacted.

"My tavern is only seven miles away from the Aitkin County border," said Keith Kalli of Wright. "My customers will all go there if they want to smoke."


Brandon Sell of the Third Base Bar in Carlton said some 80 percent of his customers smoke and many of them may decide to stay home or go to the casino (which would be exempt from the ordinance) if they can't smoke in his bar.

Vicki Rostollan of Spirits Restaurant and Bar called for a partial ban that exempts bars, and while Sue Jordan of Hanging Horn Village (which is smoke-free) said she supports freedom of choice. She encouraged fellow small-business owners to "go for it - and go smoke-free."

Dr. David Luehr talked about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke as "an important health issue," saying it is one of the highest priorities of the Minnesota Medical Association's "Freedom to Breathe Act."

"Children of parents who smoke are in the emergency room 10 times more often due to respiratory problems," he said.

He said when the community of Helena, Mont., went smoke-free, there was a 40 percent drop in hospital admissions for heart attacks.

Though a number of those who testified at the hearing stated fans and ventilation systems would take care of the cigarette smoke problem, Luehr attested it would take "hurricane-force winds" to get rid of the dangerous hydrocarbons produced in cigarette smoke.

Bartender Lisa Hayes took exception to the alleged dangers of second-hand smoke.

"I worked in the bar all nine months while I was pregnant," she said, "and my baby is completely healthy. Let us have the choice to decide [if we want our business to go smoke-free]. We deserve it. It's our life."


Ann Connolly asked county board members to base their decision on facts and not emotions.

"As our kids see how we handle this, perhaps they will start to rethink the way they think about smoking," she summed up.

An informal comment period on the ordinance will continue for a week, and a final decision will be made by the board sometime in February.

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