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In Bars & Clubs

Many downtown Minneapolis bars, like Kieran's Irish Pub, have survived the Minnesota smoking ban with outdoor patios.

Minnesota smoking ban still divisive after five years


MINNEAPOLIS -- There are just a few weeks left before Milwaukee bars go smoke-free, but residents of the Twin Cities haven't been able to take a drag inside a bar for the last five years.

Individual smoking bans went into effect in Minneapolis and suburban Bloomington in 2005 while Minnesota followed with a statewide ban in 2007.

As in Milwaukee, supporters of the Minnesota ordinances called the ban a victory for public health while opponents raised concerns with government interference in private businesses and losses of jobs and revenue.

It's been half a decade, but the issue is still divisive in Minnesota.

"There are still a lof people, especially those who have been harmed financially, still upset," says Kenn Rockler of the Tavern League of Minnesota.

A former bar owner himself, Rockler quit smoking 18 years ago but lobbied against the ban on behalf of the state's bar and tavern owners, who were worried about taking a financial hit.

"It's important to note that not everybody got hurt," Rockler says. "If you listen to supporters, they'll say tax reciepts show no effect right now. But there are places that have struggled and a lot of places -- some that have been around for 40 or 50 years -- that had to close because of the ban."

A study performed by the Minnesota Department of Health and Family Support and Minneapolis Regulatory Services Licensing Division examined revenues during six-month periods (April through September) over a three-year period leading up to and after the implementation of the smoking ban.

Based upon sales tax revenue provided by the Minnesota Department of Revenue, the study surveyed 353 licensed establishments.

The study found that alcohol and food sales, on the whole, increased during the three-year periods. Sales increased by more than seven percent from 2004 to 2005, when the ban went into effect, though alcohol sales did slow somewhat after the ban.

The study also pointed out that the increases couldn't directly be tied to the ban.

"These findings do not directly address the question of whether the Indoor Smoking Ordinance had a beneficial or adverse economic impact on the local hospitality industry," the study says. "Many factors affect alcohol and food sales including the local economy, the weather, and the attractions offered by entertainment venues. The study also does not take into account inflation."

Critics of the study say that the city of Minneapolis "cherry picked" the 353 establishments from a total of 618 Minneapolis liquor licenses in order to minimize the ban's true impact.

Smaller bars and nightclubs, which don't offer food, noticed small drops in revenue while as many as 400 businesses in the Twin Cities metropolitan area have closed in the years since the ban went into effect.

"Places that served beer and pizza, those types of places, they made out alright," says Rockler. "But if you had a place that did a high percentage of alcoholic drinks, many of them were hurt severely ... losing anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of their business."

One way of gauging the ban's effect was monitoring proceeds of pull-tab sales. Though not technically legal gambling, much like video slot machines in Wisconsin, pull-tabs are common in Minnesota bars.

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PlayerGotGame | June 12, 2010 at 9:28 a.m. (report)

Next up: a statewide ban on Ed Hardy attire.

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sandstorm | June 7, 2010 at 11:30 a.m. (report)

i thought smokers were supposed to be cool. turns out they're just about the biggest whiners around.

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rkerhin | June 7, 2010 at 12:56 a.m. (report)

Yes, ACTIVISTS are causing second hand smoke to be cancerous! The reason that people are worried about what others do in public, licensed establishments is that they want to be in control of the air they breathe. Nobody is trying to take away your right to smoke, but they are trying to tell you that when you share a room with others, you cannot force them to share your filthy habit as well. How outrageous! How unfair! This is not like prohibition - nobody is making cigarettes illegal.

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jjrakman | June 4, 2010 at 2:21 p.m. (report)

Yes, in a few weeks all the nagging busy bodies that are so concerned about what everyone else around them is doing, will be getting their way. And now it seems they've taken to nagging folks about not wanting to go to the bar after the ban too. Honestly, for the younger 20 somethings, the ban probably won't mean much. But if you're older late 20's or 30's, a smoker, and married and not looking to hook up, why would you want to go to the bar, when you can simply invite friends over to your rec room bar and drink and smoke as you please? There's a rec room bar in almost every basement in Wisconsin. And guess what, drinking affects people around you too, including killing people when drunk drivers leave the bar and hit somebody head on. So why not bring back Prohibition? Oh that's right, because prohibition doesn't work, but rather makes the problem worse. I guess that's why there's already smoking speakeasies in Madison, and I'll be actively seeking out smoking speakeasies here in Milwaukee. I'm sure the police in Milwaukee, will be very thankful to have a whole brand new black market to contend with because they just don't have enough problems to fill their time with. Shootings? Pish posh! Go after the ashtrays! Thanks activists!

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rkerhin | June 4, 2010 at 8:00 a.m. (report)

Bars that closed after the smoking ban can only blame themselves. If your patrons stop coming in it means that your bar is a boring dive and you have failed to develop good relatinships with your clientele. "Gee, we can't smoke in TJ McFlippers anymore?! I guess there is absolutely no reason to go there again!"

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