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Smoking ban gains support

ST. PAUL - The fate of lit cigarettes inside most Minnesota establishments may be about to go poof - not puff.

A bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers Thursday announced plans to stuff out smoking in workplaces across the state, including bars and restaurants.

"Smoking is a personal choice, but that choice can hurt others if exercised without regard to other people," said Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato. "Improving the health of Minnesotans is the most compelling reason to support smoke-free laws."

The bill calls for no smoking in indoor workplaces and on public transportation.

Democrats, joined by Republicans including Sen. Steve Dille of Dassel, said that since 40 percent of Minnesota is already covered under smoking bans, a statewide restriction "creates a level playing field."

Dille related numerous personal experiences he had with cigarettes - all of which he said ended with the same resolution.

"I coughed, I choked," he repeated as media members chuckled, "and I thought, 'Hey man, this is not good."

Dille said he believes the legislation will curb smoking among young people.

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, who opposes the proposal, said he'd prefer to see a partial ban on smoking in places like restaurants with full menus and bowling alleys.

Places where children would frequent should be off-limits but not where other legal vices are prevalent, he said.

"If they sell beer, booze or burgers, buyer beware," Howes said.

Legislators at Thursday's press conference said they think - after unsuccessful attempts at passing similar legislation in a Republican-controlled House - this year's bill to ban smoking will win wider appeal at the Capitol. Survey data showing strong public support should bolster that, Sheran said.

"I believe that these kinds of outcomes are very influential on elected officials," she said.

Howes said he'd like to head off the legislation with other options, but suspected it may be a lost cause.

"It kind of appears the train is on the track," he said. "And it's moving pretty fast."

Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, noted that his hometown was the first large city in the state to pass a smoking ban.

Claims that smoking bans have negative effects on bars and restaurants don't hold water, he said, noting that activity in the food and drink sector remains high in Duluth.

Huntley added that Duluth's experience thus far also disproves claims that patrons who smoke will head across state lines where neighboring border towns have more relaxed smoking laws.

He praised the bill's merits. "This is a comprehensive bill that addresses all indoor air that is shared by the public and will really help workers," Huntley said.