ST. PAUL, Minn. - Monday marked the fifth anniversary of Minnesota's smoking ban. The Freedom to Breathe Act snuffed out secondhand smoke in bars and restaurants as well as public workplaces.
For Phil Weber, time has certainly cleared the air at Park Tavern in St. Louis Park. He once publicly opposed the ban and says instead, it brought an instant boost to his restaurant and bowling business.
"People still call me and ask me if there is smoking at my place so people are still a little confused by the whole smoking ban, but again, I would never go back to smoking if I had the option. It's just a nicer environment to work in," said Weber.
Weber emphasized he still believes stand alone bars should be allowed smoking to maintain revenue, and in the bowling alley, customer Craig Johnson agreed.
"I think that bar owners should be allowed to set their own policies, you know. If a bar was smoky, I would just choose not to go," said Johnson.
In St. Paul, the owners of Café Latte supported the ban chose to go smoke free two decades ago. State leaders gathered at the restaurant to celebrate the smoking ban.
"We still have more to do as you all know, the tobacco industry has not given up, and is still finding other ways to get young people," said Senator Kathy Sheran, (DFL) District 23 of Mankato, who spearheaded the law as a freshman legislator.
The group ClearWay Minnesota says the current rate of Minnesota adults who smoke is at 16 percent, down from 17 percent in 2007. Spokesperson Michael Sheldon emphasized the statistics show while the evidence of improved health is clear, there is still more work to be done. He says 5,100 Minnesotans die each year from tobacco use and it still costs the state $3 billion in excess medical costs.
Phil Weber says one downside of the ban has been his charitable gaming. In five years, he says his pull-tab revenues plummeted 500 percent, but when he weighs the cost to the customer, the smoking ban wins.
"I used to wait on tables with a cigarette in my hand and everybody, everybody smoked back in the day. Times have changed, I have been here 32 years and you do have to change," said Weber, so says he has a more family oriented business today.
The Minnesota Department of Health says the percentage of Minnesota adults exposed to secondhand smoke fell by 24 percent since the ban was enacted.
Minnesotans who want to stop smoking can get help with the free Quitplan services.
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