I started working at a bar in early 2007, prior to the Freedom to Breathe Act of 2007, which effectively banned smoking in bars and restaurants throughout Minnesota on Oct. 1, 2007. Mankato had passed a similar measure locally, but the ban was eventually lifted in leiu of the statewide vote. Those five months in which smoking was permitted led to some of the worst mornings of my life. I was just a bouncer then, minding my stool for five hours every Friday and Saturday night. The secondhand smoke got so bad, I eventually had to see an Ear, Nose & Throat specialist for persistent tonsil swelling.
“You work at a bar, don’t you?” he said. “I see this all the time.”
If not for the smoking ban, the ENT advised I would have to quit my job.
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A similar smoking ban recently passed in South Dakota, much to the ire of bar owners statewide. Said owners aren’t going down without a fight, however. They’re starting a peitition to have the ban brought to a public vote in 2010.
I’m as much for a public vote as I am the statewide ban. That’s democracy at its finest. however, I do take exception with some of the arguments being made by bar owners who opposing the smoking ban. In an article printed in today’s Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Don Rose, co-owner of Shenanigan’s Pub, says:
“Minnesota lost over 300 bars in the first year.”
To say the Minnesota smoking ban accounted for the closing of over 300 bars is a bit presumptuous. There were several other variables to take into account: the struggling economy; the increased cost of liquor licenses; the banning of drink specials in several college towns. Surely, some bars were negatively affected by the smoking ban. However, the bar business has always been about booze. Smoking is in the same realm as playing pool, darts or foosball when it comes to bar activities. (It’s not the primary purpose of going to a bar.)
As a native South Dakotan, I usually try to avoid the bars when I go home. I cannot stand drinking while immersed in clouds of smoke. Sadly, this is the norm for South Dakota residents. Whenever a friend from home visits me in Mankato, they marvel at how much better the bars are for the lack of smoke. (I’ve heard this from friends who smoke, too.)
Rose and fellow bar owners should consider how the smoking ban might positively effect their bar. They will surely tap into a crowd that was hesitant to go out more frequently due to smoke. Not to mention, this reduces the need for often-expensive air-filtration systems. Smoking is also a fire hazard. Not to mention every bar in South Dakota is on the same playing field. If your bar’s biggest draw was, “Hey, we’re a great place for smoking,” then you should re-evaluate your business plan. It’s not as if you’ll lose customers to other bars who allow smoking.
Rose goes on to say:
“Smoking is legal in the United States. Why can’t it be in my establishment?”
Smoking is legal in the U.S., but not everywhere. There are many other establishments and venues – some even outdoor – where smoking isn’t allowed. The harm of secondhand smoke is undeniable. The moment someone lights up, they’re affecting themselves and those around them. Smoking might be legal in the U.S. (in some places), but don’t we also have the fundamental right to clean air? I hope so. Especially for anyone living in more industrial areas of the country.
My gut feeling is the bar owners will have their way and get the smoking ban on a ballot. Public support for a Minnesota smoking ban was estimated at 69.1% in 2007. A suvery by the American Heart Association shows nearly 65% of South Dakotans support the ban. A public vote will bring an end to the debate, but I don’t see the bar owners ever getting their way.