Editorial: Who pays the smoking bill?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 8, 2007

Minnesota House and Senate leaders, keep amendments off the smoking bill.

The bill as it stands bans smoking at indoor workplaces such as restaurants and saloons.

Some lawmakers want to tack on amendments that allow smoking in saloons that make more money from liquor than from food. Others want to allow smoking if bars have ventilation systems and smoking sections.

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Minnesota shells out almost $2 billion annually to pay for tobacco-related health care. That means good, hard-working people are paying the tab for the 20 percent of adults in Minnesota who smoke. That&8217;s not exactly fair to the 80 percent of adults who do not smoke.

The proposed smoking ban bill passed the Senate Health, Housing and Family Security Committee this week on a divided voice vote. It also cleared House Health and Human Services Committee on a 12-6 vote.

In the Senate, the bill rests with the Business, Industry and Jobs Committee, while in the House it is in the hands of the Commerce and Labor Committee.

District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks sits on the Business, Industry and Jobs Committee. He said he will hear discussion before he makes a decision but said he leans in favor of a bill with amendments that allow some form of exceptions for bars, clubs and casinos. He said he worries that some businesses will suffer from a smoking ban.

District 27A Rep. Robin Brown said she is leaning toward the legislation as it stands based on discussions she&8217;s had in the Albert Lea. The discussions found favor for a statewide ban over local bans because it sets a level field for commerce.

What is right or wrong? The black lungs of workers or the bottom line. If you are a caring employer, it&8217;s an easy answer. The businesses will survive, as they have in other states. A good employer cares about employees. If you work, you shouldn&8217;t have to breathe smoke in Minnesota, a state that prides itself on healthy living.

So far, the House and Senate committees have done a good job of keeping amendments from sidetracking the bills in each chamber. Let&8217;s hope the leadership can keep it that way all the way to the governor&8217;s desk.