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Survey reinforces smoking ban, hints at expansion

By Joshua Lynsen

jlynsen@postbulletin.com

The majority of Olmsted County residents perceive secondhand smoke as a health threat and favor restricting smoking in public, according to a recent survey.

Conducted by Olmsted County Public Health and the University of Minnesota, the survey also found most residents prefer smoke-free restaurants and believe restrictions on smoking in public places do not discriminate against smokers.

Results of the survey were presented Tuesday to the Olmsted County Board.

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"This data reinforces the county board's decision regarding the smoke-free restaurant ordinance," said Mary Wellik, director of Public Health Services. "Residents understand the dangers of secondhand smoke and support environmental changes limiting exposure."

The survey, conducted last year by mail, gathered responses from 334 people with addresses inside Olmsted County. Most respondents indicated they had graduated college, never smoked and were 40 to 60 years old.

Respondents agreed that secondhand smoke is a health threat to adults and children.

About 93 percent of respondents said such smoke is harmful to adults. Slightly more people said it harms children.

Nearly 99 percent favored restrictions in restaurants, while 96 percent favored restrictions at outdoor school events and 74 percent favored restrictions at outdoor recreation areas such as parks and fairgrounds.

About 70 percent said restricting smoking in public places does not discriminate against smokers.

The survey's margin of error was plus or minus 6 percent.

Brooke Werneburg, an Olmsted County public health educator, said most respondents found secondhand smoke annoying. About 95 percent of the 334 respondents, which included 33 smokers, said such smoke annoyed them.

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"Both smokers and nonsmokers found secondhand smoke annoying," she said. "So even those who smoke are annoyed by secondhand smoke."

The county's smoke-free restaurant ordinance went into effect Jan. 1, 2002. The ordinance defines a restaurant as any establishment where food sales exceed liquor sales. It affects about 360 establishments in the county.

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