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One year later, support for smoking ban up

DICKINSON, N.D. —  Support has only increased in the year since North Dakota voters decided to end smoking in bars, the group that lobbied to implement the law said.

North Dakotans got the measure on last November’s general election ballot, and it passed with a supermajority of 67 percent. Three months later, Tobacco Free North Dakota polled a statistical cross section of the state to find that approval had increased to 72 percent.

“This was actually the people who voted this law in,” said Jeanne Prom, executive director of the North Dakota Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy. “This was not a government mandate. This was a mandate by the voters.”

North Dakota voters took up the issue because the Legislature did not, said Erin Hill-Oban, executive director of Tobacco Free North Dakota.

“When the Legislature doesn’t act for so many years on something and they only meet every other year the way it is, to get things accomplished, the public really stepped up,” Hill-Oban said. “It’s a difficult and expensive way to get something done. But, in my opinion, when the public speaks, their voices should be heard.”

Banning smoking from bars and smoke shops — the last nonresidential indoor place people could smoke — was about protecting nonsmoking patrons and employees from secondhand smoke, Prom said.

“People still had to be exposed to a known human carcinogen at their place of work,” Prom said. “No one should have to choose between a healthy place to work and an unhealthy place to work. A place to work should be healthy.

“This is really about clearing the air in all workplaces and also all public places.”

In Dickinson, local bars haven’t seen much of a change in business over the past year since the ban.

“It’s a lot less stinky,” said Milissa Bauer, general manager of Army’s West Sports Bar. “As far as business goes, I don’t think it’s changed a whole lot.”

Because the ban took effect in winter, there was a bit of a dip in business right away at The Rock bar in Dickinson, but people have gotten used to it, said manager Traci Barnum.

“It actually shocks us that it’s only been a year,” Barnum said. “It feels like it’s been a lot longer than that. Everybody pretty much got right on board and nobody really complains about it anymore.”

This is the norm, Hill-Oban said.

“There have been many studies done that show that it does not have an economic impact on business,” Hill-Oban said. “People get adjusted to it and they go back to their regular routine and going back to places they frequented.”

Enforcement has been smooth, Bauer said.

“It’s clearly posted on the front door as you come in,” Bauer said. “There were few incidents where we’d have someone light one up at the very beginning, but not much of a problem.”

Some businesses were upset that they were required to cover the cost of posting smoke-free signs, but the 2013 North Dakota Legislature made a provision that allows the North Dakota Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control to provide signs and templates for businesses, Prom said.

“On request, we do provide signage as well as templates online,” Prom said. “If any businesses need signs, we provide that free of charge. There is no excuse for not having a smoke-free sign in a business or public place.”

State law still allows for smoking in outdoor public areas and multifamily housing. However, anti-smoking groups are working with municipalities to add these places to the smoke-free list.

“Our local public health units are working with their parks and recreation departments and their city officials to make parks and recreation facilities — which, of course, include outdoor facilities — smoke free as well as tobacco free,” Prom said.

Apartments, townhouses and condos share ventilation systems, so if a neighbor is smoking, secondhand smoke can make its way into the rest of the building.

“It’s mostly just how it affects people who aren’t users,” Hill-Oban said.

Removing smoking from public places takes it out of normal social behavior, Prom said.

“It creates a very healthy social norm for youth and young adults,” Prom said. “When they see that there is no smoking in public or in workplaces, the norm is that if you’re going to be out in public and if you’re going to work, it’s going to be a healthy environment and there won’t be smoking there.”

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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