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Smoking ban poll results fail to light fire

Ban supporters say public opinion is on their side

By Lanier Holt

CORRECTION RAN TUESDAY (3/12/02

The text in a graphic on Page 3A Thursday incorrectly reported poll results regarding Olmsted County's restaurant smoking ban. People age 45 and older support the ban but by a narrower margin than younger people, according to poll results.

---------------------------------------------------------- CORRECTION RAN FRIDAY (3/15/02

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A paraphrased comment by Tricia Olson, who opposes Olmsted County's restaurant smoking ban, might have been misconstrued in a story on Page 3A March 6. Olson said she believes the ban "is not a smoking issue, but one instead of freedoms and government intervention. I am confident public opinion will bear that out."

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lholt@postbulletin.com

News that more than 60 percent of Olmsted County residents favor the new restaurant smoking ban surprised few people on either side of the issue.

Mayo Clinic cardiologist Tom Kottke said he was gratified by the findings, saying they echo the results of a survey done by CardioVision 2020 about a year ago. That survey found 70 percent of county residents favored a smoking ban for bars and restaurants. Kottke is project director for CardioVision, which promotes improved health for Olmsted County residents.

"Sixty-four percent?" he asked during an interview by cell phone as he was driving to the Twin Cities. "That's about two-thirds, enough to pass a constitutional amendment."

Tricia Olson -- whose organization, Citizens Fighting for Freedom, has gathered about 3,000 signatures of opposition since the ban went into effect in January -- was somewhat surprised by the findings but said smokers knew they would lose in the court of public opinion.

"This issue is not about smoking, it's about loss of freedom and government intervention," she said.

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Dr. Richard Hurt, chairman of Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco and director of Mayo's Nicotine Dependency Center, said smoke-free indoor air is a basic right, and the county board made the right decision in passing the smoking ban.

"We're talking about protecting the health of people, not taking something away, as the word ban implies," Hurt said. "It's a health issue."

Dr. Taylor Hays, an associate with the Nicotine Dependence Center, said the poll results mirror the numbers in Duluth, where 62 percent of voters last year upheld a ban on smoking in restaurants and expanded the ban to other establishments, including bars.

"We're not prohibitionists," Hays said. "This was done for the health of the city."

Charlie Brannon, who owns Crown Restaurant and Lounge in Rochester and Sandy Point Supper Club north of the city, disagrees that the issue is about people's health. He says the real issue is the owner's right to choose.

Rich Peter, the county's director of environmental health, said 80 percent of county residents are non-smokers. With the ordinance, 83 percent of county restaurants are now smoke-free, he said. The ban went into effect Jan. 1, though some businesses have been able to receive extensions to get their buildings into compliance.

The Canadian Honker Restaurant, 1201 Second St. S.W. in Rochester, had been smoke-free for more than a year when the ban went into effect. Restaurant owner Joe Powers said he has not suffered a financial loss since the change and indicates business might have actually increased.

"I did an informal 90-day poll in 2000 and found the number of people willing to sit in the smoking section was dwindling. We were losing money because people had to wait so long for non-smoking. Waitresses had less tables to serve and tips were less since tables turned over so slowly," Powers said.

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Kottke said restaurant owners who remodel their businesses to cater to smokers are serving a small crowd. But, he said, "the beauty of America is that it's all about the freedom to make a poor business decision."

Mark Anderson, past president of the Rochester Lodging and Hospitality Association, which helped defeat a similar tobacco ordinance before it reached the Rochester City Council for a vote, said he thinks many people are feeling trampled on by organizations such as Mayo and CardioVision 2020.

"Those groups have a much bigger agenda," Anderson said. "They want to take a lot of rights and freedoms away from people in Olmsted County. A lot of people are really upset with this. We're losing our rights and freedom."

Rochester resident David Tang, while smoking outside the Barnes &; Noble book store in downtown Rochester, said he favors the ban and chooses non-smoking sections when he goes out to eat.

Sporting a designer shirt and tie, he said, "I get most of my clothes dry-cleaned, and I don't want to get them all smoky."

After extinguishing a cigarette to walk inside the Galleria Mall, Jim Volkenant of Rochester said he's also in favor of the ban.

"I don't like people blowing smoke in my face while I'm trying to eat," he said.

The results surprised Maureen Hart. Interviewed while eating at Mac's Restaurant, just across the Peace Plaza from Barnes &; Noble, Hart said she disputes the results and opposes the ban.

"You probably didn't get around to everyone because it has to be a more even split," she said. "Many people don't support the ban because it inflicts hardships on businesses in a tight economy and is putting people out of work."

BOX; ABOUT THE POLL

The Post-Bulletin commissioned and paid for the poll, which was conducted by SNG Research Corp. of Rochester. SNG Research is an independent corporation that is owned by the Small Newspaper Group, the corporate parent of the Post-Bulletin.

SNG Research surveyed 301 randomly chosen Olmsted County residents for their attitudes on several political issues, including the countywide restaurant smoking ban. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Post-Bulletin published poll results regarding the DM&E; project.

The survey sample included 233 Rochester residents and 68 people living outside Rochester. Based on the sample size, the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percent, though for some subset information, such as non-Rochester resident opinions, the margin of error is somewhat higher.

COMING UP NEXT

Friday: Poll results on support for state funding for a new Twins baseball stadium.

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