Smokers: 'Where'd our rights go?'
Passage of a strict, state-wide smoking ban by the Minnesota Senate March 27 has relit the debate over smoking in bars and restaurants. The bill bans smoking in all public Minnesota workplaces other than well-ventilated outdoor patios. A House ve...
Passage of a strict, state-wide smoking ban by the Minnesota Senate March 27 has relit the debate over smoking in bars and restaurants.
The bill bans smoking in all public Minnesota workplaces other than well-ventilated outdoor patios. A House version is under debate. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has promised he will sign the bill into law if it passes through the Legislature.
The proposed ban has sparked support from some Wadena business people, while serving as an example of the government snuffing out individual freedoms for others.
"It's long overdue," said Boondocks Café co-owner Michele Salge about the proposed ban. "I think it'll be a better working environment."
Most of her waitresses smoke, however, and probably would not agree, she said.
Wadena VFW manager Joe Randall said some of his staff would like a smoking ban to protect their health.
"On the other hand, if they didn't want to work in a bar they shouldn't work in a bar," he said. "They can get another job."
Randall said the ban will likely affect club membership at the VFW.
"I can see quite a few of them saying, 'I can't even have a cigarette in my own club, why even be a member?'" he said. "I think it will probably torque a lot of the customers off if they can't either."
Smoking ban proposals pop up regularly during legislative sessions. Salge believes a statewide smoking ban is inevitable, she said.
"I think it's a lot sooner than most people think," she said.
The issue isn't an easy one for Uptown patron Diane Packard, a nonsmoker. She has some family members who smoke and some who don't, she said.
"It's a little hard to be judgmental," she said.
Going to a restaurant involves choosing between sitting in the nonsmoking section, which she prefers, and in the smoking section with her family, she said.
Packard's friend, Dwight Nokes, a smoker, agrees that smoking is a difficult issue. For him it's a matter of choice.
"I feel they're taking our freedom away from us," Nokes said. "This is supposed to be a free country isn't it?"
Sen. Dan Skogen (DFL -- Hewitt) supported the measure.
"I look at it from a health care perspective rather than individual rights," he said. "I think that it will be good for Minnesota."
The ban is a question of individual rights for Randall.
"A lot of these guys work a lot of hours [and] you've got veterans that have fought in wars," Randall said. "In my opinion if somebody works all day or has fought in a war they should be able to have a cigarette if they want to have one."
His sentiments were echoed by Wadena VFW members and staff.
"If a guy can go in the service at 18 years old and die for his country, he should be able to go in a bar and have a drink and have a cigarette," said Bob Wilkening, VFW board chairman.
"Where'd our rights go?" asked Wadena VFW member Paul Nevin. "Next they'll be telling you, you can't smoke in your own vehicle."
Nonsmokers Ed Waln and VFW bartender Diane Vry also believe smoking in the bar is a matter of choice.
"I think that if you want to smoke, you should be able to if you're of age, as long as you don't blow it in my face," Waln said. "It's a free country."
"And the veterans fought for it," Vry added. "It's a vets club. If they want to smoke they should be able to."
An amendment exempting veterans' service organizations was taken out of the bill.
Randall said he doesn't think the exemption would have been reasonable since many clubs have open liquor licenses to offset dwindling club membership.
"It's pretty unfair for me to be able to allow smoking and Ray's down the street can't," he said.
Randall doesn't think it's right that casinos would still be allowed to have smoking according to the Senate bill.
"Because don't you think their business is going to quadruple," he said. "It doesn't make much sense."
It should be up to individual businesses if they want smoking or not, Randall said.
As a restaurant owner, Salge has a different perspective. She said a state-wide ban is the only way eliminating smoking won't hurt individual businesses.
"If you do it community-wide or business-wide it affects [your business]" she said. "When one restaurant goes nonsmoking they'll go to the restaurant where smoking is allowed. It does affect your business if not everybody does it."
Randall believes an eventual smoking ban is a given, he said, but VFW patrons will keep lighting up for now.
"I think they're going to go ahead and do it no matter what you do," he said about state lawmakers. "Til it goes through, we stay smoking."
Capitol Correspondent Don Davis
contributed to this report