Smoking ban tightens in GF this weekGrand Forks’ public smoking ban became stricter Monday night after the City Council voted unanimously to pass changes to comply with new state laws.
By: By Brandi Jewett, Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks’ public smoking ban became stricter Monday night after the City Council voted unanimously to pass changes to comply with new state laws.
Changes to the city ban will go into effect Friday, while the statewide smoking ban passed in the November election will be implemented Thursday.
“We don’t have a lot of leeway in changing some of this,” said Haley Thorson, a tobacco coordinator at Grand Forks Public Health.
She and two other coordinators, Theresa Knox and Kailee Dvorak, have been working closely with the city attorney and other departments to prepare the city for the transition, she said.
“It’ll take some time for businesses to get to know the law,” Thorson said.
The coordinators will spend the next few months educating business owners and getting them in compliance.
Under the ban, patrons and employees will be required to stand 20 feet away from the doors and windows of a business when smoking instead of the 15-foot minimum established by the city’s 2010 smoking ban.
Ash trays must be moved to 20 feet away from the business as well.
With the ban start date looming, local businesses are sorting out what they will need to change.
Some bars may have to adjust the location or walls of their smoking shelters. Under the new law, smoking shelters must be 20 feet away from the business, and their walls can only cover 33 percent of the structure.
Joe Schneider, co-owner of Joe Black’s, said he wasn’t sure what changes he’ll have to make to its smoking shelter.
“We’re still in talks about what we’re going to do,” he said. “But we’re going to have to do something.”
The city assisted bar owners with the 2010 smoking ban transition, and Schneider said he is hoping for help this time around as well. The specifications for the smoking shelters seem vague and other owners would like more clarity or even a model of an acceptable shelter, he said.
“We don’t want to spend money and then have to rebuild it,” Schneider said.
A few blocks away at Sledster’s Food & Brew, owner Joe Spicer plans to move his bar’s smoking patio five more feet away from the building, but says he isn’t sure what else he’d have to do to be in compliance.
“Everybody wants to do the wait-and-see approach,” Spicer said referring to other bar owners.
Bars won’t be the only businesses affected by the stricter ban.
While bars, truck stops and bowling alleys have been required to be smoke-free since August 2010, there were still exemptions in the state law for hotel and motel rooms, healthcare facilities and retail tobacco stores.
Under the new law, these locations will no longer receive an exemption.
All businesses also will be responsible for posting signs saying smoking is prohibited on the premises — including signs visible from the exterior of company cars.
The next few months will be a “heavy education” period for area businesses, said Thorson.
“The transition is similar to the one we went through in 2010,” she said. “As soon as people received the information, they took it seriously and adopted it.”
She hopes this year’s transition will go as smoothly.
Materials about the law are available at the Grand Forks Tobacco Free Coalition website www.tobac cobytes.com. A “frequently asked questions” section regarding changes to city law will be available soon on the website, according to Thorson.
A mailer containing information about the changes required state law also will be sent out soon by the state Center for Tobacco Prevention & Control Policy to about 55,000, Thorson said.
For now, the focus will be getting businesses in compliance with the law.
“We’d rather take the education route instead of the enforcement one,” she said.
Violating the smoking ban is a noncriminal offense for individuals and businesses with fines as high as $500 for repeat offenders.
A first-time violation may earn smokers a $100 fine. The fine amount increases if additional violations occur within a one-year period.
Businesses found in noncompliance also could lose a city-issued permit or license such as a liquor or taxi license.