Thursday, January 12, 2006

Smoking ban passes in St. Paul

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:03 PM |  

It’s official. The St. Paul City Council voted 4-3 Wednesday to ban smoking in the city's bars and restaurants. The new mayor, Chris Coleman, immediately signed the smoking ban into law. The ban takes effect March 31.

An awful lot (a lot of which has been awful) has been written about the smoking ban and the dangers of secondhand smoke. For the most part, information has come out through public hearings, which by their very nature present information in a disjointed fashion, jumping from the science of secondhand smoke to economic impacts to private property rights and individual choice arguments and back again. In the public hearing format, it’s difficult to get a handle on the individual issues.

Nor have legislative committee‘s, city councils and county boards haven’t been very helpful in sorting out the issues surrounding the smoking ban. Votes and comments by members tend to reflect the bias of the individual rather than any consistent application of facts to objective.

What has been missing from the smoking ban is the flow of how the decision to implement a smoking ban is made -- first, determine if secondhand smoke poses an unacceptable risk to people that do not consent to the risk; second, determine the unintended consequences of a smoking ban and evaluate their impact versus the benefits; and third, determine if a smoking ban is the only or the best way to fulfill government’s mandate to protect public health; might there be a better way for government to meet is responsibility without inflicting harm on the citizens it is charged with protecting?

On Saturday, January 28 I’ll be sitting in for Mark Yost, who will be hosting the 9-11am Saturday morning time slot on AM1280 The Patriot starting this Saturday. During the 10-11am hour I’ll have as my guests, St. Paul City Councilman Dave Thune, who has doggedly pursued a total smoking ban in St. Paul, and Hennepin County Commissioner Penny Steele, who was the strongest advocate for the small business owners that forced a rollback of the Hennepin County smoking ban.

Beyond the smoking ban issue itself, we’ll discuss the broader issue of government involvement in public health. Below is the outline I sent to both Thune and Steele that will serve as the basis of discussion. It’s also the parameters for those that choose to call into the program (651-289-4488).


The Minnesota Legislature passed the Minnesota Clear Indoor Air Act (MCIAA) specifically to “protect public health by restricting smoking in public places and workplaces.” According to groups like the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society and many government health organizations, secondhand smoke poses a significant risk to non-smokers, which would include employees and patrons of bars and restaurants that permit smoking. show that there is no decrease in taxable revenue in states and municipalities that have enacted smoking bans. Further, a majority of Minnesotans favor extending indoor smoking bans authorized the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act to bars and restaurants, which as a class were granted exceptions in the original bill.

On the other hand --

The MCIAA recognized bars and restaurants as a class and granted them an exception to smoking bans, recognizing that smoking bans would cause undo hardship on many businesses. Despite aggregate statistics that show revenue to government does not decrease following a smoking ban, individual businesses suffer significant loss of revenue and profits, many lay off employees and some are forced to close. Smoking bans in private bars and restaurants violate the property rights of their owners and the freedom of individual choice by patrons and employees. Although statistical analysis of secondhand smoke shows a correlation between exposure over time to secondhand smoke and certain diseases, the correlation is not statistically significant until exposure is measured in decades, and then the elevated risk is not significantly greater than that of the general population.

Therefore --

If there is immediate and significant economic harm caused by smoking bans to a significant number of businesses and the benefits to public health are statistically insignificant, are smoking bans the only or the best way to fulfill government’s mandate to protect public health? What neutral criteria does Hennepin County and the city of St. Paul use to determine when a health issue rises to a level that necessitates government intervention?

Category: Local Politics, Smoking Ban, The Patriot