The Free Press, Mankato, MN


April 22, 2008

Our View — Smoking shack idea should be burned

Those who opposed a statewide smoking ban can’t seem to take no for an answer when it comes to weakening the ban.

This year, they’re trying again. They want to allow bar owners to build so-called “smoke shacks” outside of bars and restaurants that would allow smokers to presumably stay warm while they light up. Several Democrats and Republicans, including Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, presented the smoking shack amendment for amending onto a budget balancing bill shortly before midnight on April 3.

There didn’t appear to be a lot of debate and the amendment passed the House 73-59. All Republicans representing the Mankato region and St. Peter Democrat Terry Morrow voted in favor of the “smoke shack” provision. They were joined by a number of Iron Range Democrats who have long argued the smoking ban hurts the business, though certainly not the health, of small resort owners in northern Minnesota. Rep. Kathy Brynaert, D-Mankato, was the only Mankato area legislator who voted against the amendment.

That this amendment was adopted without proper debate reeks of subterfuge. Beyond that, it’s just bad health-care policy and bad fiscal policy. The health-care costs saved by the statewide smoking ban already are apparent. Thousands of smokers have signed up for quit smoking plans, saving the state millions in health-care costs. A recent University of Minnesota study showed cancer risks for bar employees has dropped since the smoking ban took effect.

Sen. Kathy Sheran, D-Mankato, the freshmen legislator who ushered the controversial ban through the Legislature last year, says the vague amendment creates a “huge loophole” in the state’s smoking ban. Bars could build “smoke shacks” as big as they wanted, connecting them to a small room as the main bar. The amendment states that bar employees could not serve people in the smoke shack but leaves open the possibility the smokers could take food and drink with them to the smoking shack.

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