A proposal to ban smoking in Minot bars died in committee Wednesday when three aldermen voted down the idea as too intrusive on private business.
The 1-3 vote against advancing the proposal means the Minot tobacco prevention coalition's request for an ordinance won't go to the Minot City Council. The committee didn't consider any other recommendations on the issue for the council.
Alderman Ron Boen, who cast the only affirmative vote, had moved to send the item to council without recommendation but failed to get a second. He made the motion because of the absence of three committee members.
Voting against the more restrictive smoking ordinance were Alderman Scott Knudsvig, Blake Krabseth and Tim Greenheck.
Opponents of the proposed ordinance, many of them bar owners, fill much of the council auditorium. They were in unison about the rights of private businesses to operate as they see fit.
"The real issue is freedom of choice," said Gary Huber, owner of three Minot bars. "Freedom of choice is something our forefathers fought for since 1776. Why do some people always feel they know what's best for everyone? Mandate the smoking bars to label all entrances stating that they are a smoking bar, and then let the patrons decide if they want to enter the bar or if they want to go to a nonsmoking bar. I employ between 60 and 70 people, and if I lose 20 percent of my business that's 12 to 14 employees. Now that not right for the community. It's not right for the employees, and it's not right for me."
Other bar owners also spoke about the potential of losing customers and having to lay off employees. It was noted that people have a choice with seven bars already smoke-free.
Fred Mueller, who owns the smoke-free bar, Sports on Tap, urged the committee to vote down the proposed ordinance.
"We have plenty of choice here in Minot to go wherever you want to go. I do firmly believe it's a true statement that some bars are going to fail if they go smoke-free," he said. "Freedom of choice for legal activities is really what we need to think about here."
He added no employees in other bars have asked to come work at his establishment to get away from the smoke.
"Where are these people?" he said.
Louise Bell, a 22-year employee at Lamplighter Lounge, said she works by choice at the bar, which allows smoking. She said she takes offense at secondhand-smoke advertisements that portray bar employees as working in smoking environments because they are incapable of finding another job.
"If I didn't want to work at the Lamplighter, I could quit and go somewhere else," she said. "I am not there because I have to be. I know the other employees aren't there because they have to be."
A couple of residents not employed with bars also spoke against the proposed ordinance.
"The problem is tobacco is not going to go away whether we make this a ban or not in bars," said Josh Rivera of Minot. Smoking in homes around children could increase if parents can't use bars as their outlet for smoking, he said.
"The city should not be asked to make this decision for the citizens of Minot," said Mike Perdue, owner of The Rack, a pool hall. "I do not believe this is just a smoking issue but an issue of personal freedom of choice. This smoking ban is not business friendly and will hurt Minot businesses."
Both sides presented opposing data to support their arguments that business will or will not be hurt by a change.
The committee heard from one citizen who indicated that he enjoys going to bars for the music but smoke has forced him to leave. Others associated with health groups also testified.
Family practice physician Kim Krohn, ophthalmologist Darrell Williams and oncologist Kevin Collins spoke in support of expanding the smoking ban. They cited the negative consequences to smoking and secondhand smoke that they see in their practices.
"There's no freedom in the number one preventable cause of death in the United States today," Williams said.
STAMP president Mary Muhlbradt cited a survey showing 72 percent of Minot residents would support a ban.
Lowell Thomas presented 2,200 signatures collected in the past four days in local bars in opposition to smoking restrictions. These are actual people who would be affected, he said.
Boen said that in 2001, he had opposed Minot's ordinance to restrict smoking in restaurants but has since come to appreciate the restriction.
"I listened to three physicians stand here and tell us how they are treating people who are dying from smoking so I have to make a choice, too, and my choice is I want to be on the side that is trying to keep us alive," Boen said.
Krabseth, who had pushed for the restaurant ordinance, said he cannot support going any further than the state's existig ban on smoking in most public places.
"There's good arguments on both sides, and balancing liberty is a responsibility we take seriously," he said. "People are allowed to make stupid choices, and there's only so far we can go as a government body."
Greenheck and Knudsvig also came down on the side of business and personal freedom of choice.
"Anybody who goes to a bar, it's their choice," Greenheck said.
Committee members who were absent were Aldermen Jim Hatlelid, Hardy Lieberg and Dave Lehner.