Tobacco coordinator backs ban on smoking

Vicki Rosenau, tobacco coordinator for the City-County Health District, backs a proposed North Dakota ballot initiative to ban smoking in all indoor workplaces, including bars, a step that the state Legislature has refused to take since lawmakers approved broad smoking restrictions seven years ago.

The measure, which a group called Smoke-Free North Dakota submitted to Secretary of State Al Jaeger on Wednesday, would cover “e-cigarettes,” which produce an odorless, nicotine-laced vapor that’s similar to tobacco smoke.

Rosenau said Jaeger must determine the measure as submitted meets legal and wording requirements before it is circulated around the state for signatures.

It would prohibit smoking in bars and other indoor workplaces where state law now allows smoking, including tobacco shops, private nursing-home rooms, taxis and motel rooms that are now reserved for smokers.

It would ban smoking in outdoor stadiums, including Fargo’s Newman Outdoor Field, a baseball park.

Violators could be fined $50, the proposed initiative says, and a bar proprietor who allowed smoking in spite of the ban could have his or her liquor and tobacco sales licenses revoked.

Rosenau said providing the measure is approved by Jaeger, sponsors will need to turn in petitions with at least 13,452 signatures from North Dakota voters by midnight Aug. 8 to have a chance at getting it on the ballot.

Rosenau predicted Jaeger will approve the measure wording “and we’ll probably start (circulating the petitions) in about a week.”

Rosenau said she expects many signatures in Barnes County, noting, “We did a local poll and 79 percent of people in Valley City wanted comprehensive, smoke-free protection. The last state-wide poll in 2010 72.5 percent said they would support a law to eliminate smoking from indoor workplaces.”

Chelsey Matter, a West Fargo respiratory therapist who is chairwoman of the initiative campaign, said backers of the idea hope to put the measure on the November general election ballot.

Matter said she was confident the goal could be reached.

“North Dakota right now is surrounded by states that are smoke-free,” Matter said during a news conference at the state Capitol. “We want to add North Dakota to that list.”

Said Rosenau, “I don’t think North Dakota has to be last” to ban indoor smoking

Rudie Martinson, director of the North Dakota Hospitality Association, said Wednesday the proposal was unnecessary. The association is a trade group that represents bars and restaurants.

Business owners should decide whether to ban smoking on their premises, Martinson said.

“It’s our job to serve our customers ... and if our customers demand something like that, then that’s something we will absolutely respond to,” Martinson said. “It shouldn’t take the heavy hand of government to dictate that to us.”

Jaeger has about a week to review the petition and approve it for circulation, which is required before supporters may begin gathering signatures.

The North Dakota Legislature approved a broad prohibition on indoor workplace smoking in 2005. Lawmakers exempted bars, enclosed areas of truck stops, some motel rooms and tobacco shops. Since then, lawmakers have repeatedly resisted extending the ban to bars. The North Dakota House rejected the most recent attempt to do so in 2009 by a 59-33 vote.
Said Rosenau, “We’re trying to close those loopholes as they pertain to indoor workplaces.”

Eight North Dakota cities already prohibit smoking in bars, according to the North Dakota Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy. They are Bismarck, Fargo, West Fargo, Grand Forks, Devils Lake, Pembina, Cavalier and Napoleon.

On Tuesday, voters in Linton endorsed the idea, but the Linton City Council will have to approve an anti-tobacco ordinance first.

Rosenau said indoor smoking has been banned in a mix of small and large North Dakota cities.

“There’s certainly a lot of momentum with all of the cities that have (approved smoke-free ordinances) over the last year,” Matter said. “We just felt that now was a good time, and with the November election, we know there’s going to be a good turnout.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article