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Duluth council eases up on smoking ban

Associated Press

DULUTH -- The Duluth City Council has voted to loosen the city's smoking ban. Lame-duck Mayor Gary Doty doesn't like it, but the smoking ban exception passed with a veto-proof 6-3 majority.

"The whole point of the ban is to make our restaurants safer, and I feel the council's action is counterproductive to reaching that goal," Doty said.

The change would allow about 65 establishments with liquor licenses to seal off their bar areas and allow food service and smoking. Now, smoking is banned throughout the city except in about a dozen bars that can serve only frozen pizza and snacks.

Doty said the change goes against voters' wishes when they approved the ban in November 2001.

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Doty vetoed the exception on Tuesday, but his veto will stick only if a city council member's vote changes when the council meets on Monday.

Councilors approved the change Dec. 1 in response to concerns that bars with tiny kitchens can't serve food, and that even pizza places were forced to choose between serving frozen pizza and allowing smoking.

Former councilor Gary Eckenberg, who drafted the original ban, said allowing bars to serve food gives them an unfair advantage over establishments that can't allow smoking. The law was crafted specifically to deal with those concerns and make it fair, he said.

"We've spent a long time thinking and talking about this," said council member Russ Stewart, who drafted the amendment. "We've made a strong commitment to this, and I don't think the mayor's opinion is going to change that."

Smoking ban supporters have said if the amendment becomes law, they will put a tougher ban on the ballot next November. If voters approve that ban, the council would not be able to change it again.

Doty chose not to run for re-election and leaves office in January.

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