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Incredibly, a bill that would partially repeal Minnesota's smoking ban was introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives this week. It was only three and a half short years ago that the state enacted its Freedom to Breathe Act that banned ...

Incredibly, a bill that would partially repeal Minnesota's smoking ban was introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives this week. It was only three and a half short years ago that the state enacted its Freedom to Breathe Act that banned smoking in all public places and workplaces in the state. A few short months before that, Carlton County was forward thinking enough to have passed a similar ban all on its own. And even before that, the city of Moose Lake took it upon itself to make smoking illegal inside the city limits.

None of those acts came without literally years of discussion, deliberation and debate, and the end result had been thoroughly and carefully weighed against all of the arguments against it.

Since that time, residents and visitors to the state have been the beneficiaries of better health and cleaner air. To their credit, most of the bars and other hospitality businesses - who may have found the transition a difficult economic move - took their responsibility under the new law to heart and acted in good faith by enforcing it and, in many cases, investing money in adding compliant, outdoor spaces to their facilities to accommodate customers who wished to smoke.

It's been a long, hard journey for all of us, and to think we'd even consider going backward once again is discouraging indeed.

The recently introduced legislation would allow smoking in bars provided they meet certain requirements. The bars would have to be separated from restaurant areas by floor-to-ceiling walls, and participating establishments would also have to install ventilation systems that would exchange the air every two hours. While this may address the issues of keeping smoke away from diners, it begs the question about exposing employees who wish to retain their jobs to secondhand smoke at the risk of sacrificing their health.

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The small group of state legislators who introduced the bill (among them, Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia) argues that it will help increase business for struggling bars and restaurants that are hurting right now. But aren't most small businesses in the state - or the country, for that matter - hurting right now? We're on the heels (we hope) of a devastating period of economic depression and for the most part, the end is not yet in sight.

It's too much of a gamble to think restoring smoking to bars in the state will bring back the customers they're lacking. In fact, such a reversal of the ban may very possibly drive away non-smoking customers who have come to value the health benefits of fresh air more than ever.

Wendy Johnson

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