They're easy to spot - huddled on the sidewalk outside of bars, restaurants and businesses.
Such is the plight for Minnesota smokers who were forced out of doors after a statewide smoking ban went into effect on Oct. 1.
When Gov. Tim Pawlenty in May signed into law the Freedom to Breathe Act its provisions meant the end to smoking in virtually all public places and indoor places of employment in Minnesota. That includes bars, restaurants and private clubs - places most often associated with smoking in public.
Initially, owners of such establishments were worried such a ban would drive business down, or outright close their doors.
Tyler Hamline (left), Kaleb Kouba and Zach Kouba on Wednesday enjoyed a cigarette in an entryway converted into a screen porch at Liquor Pigz Sports Bar in downtown Brainerd. Smoking was banned Oct. 1 in virtually all public places and indoor places of employment in Minnesota. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood
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While few, if any, establishments have been driven out of business by the ban, its effect is still noted - even if it wasn't what was expected.
At the Iron Rail Saloon in downtown Brainerd, manager Brandon Soderlund said downtown Brainerd bars braced for the worst after the ban went into effect.
The first month of the ban proved those initial fears to be true as sales dropped. After that, however, things picked back up, he said, because customers didn't want to stay at home to have a cigarette and a drink.
"We kind of figured that right away people would go home and drink and smoke and what not, and have a good time there," Soderlund said. "We figured it wouldn't take long for them to come back because it's not as fun to sit at home and have a drink.
"We still hear every once in awhile a comment on how much it (stinks) to have to go outside and have a smoke but now everyone seems pretty much fine with it."
One of the driving forces behind the Freedom to Breathe Act was protecting employees and the public from secondhand smoke. While it certainly has done that for both, Soderlund noted some smokers also have seen the benefit.
"Some have started to come around and they'll say one of two things - that it helped them cut down on smoking quite a bit or that it's nice to not have to go home and throw their clothes in the washing machine right away," he said.
"Overall, it's been a little bit of an inconvenience to a few people but they deal with it and for the most part it's been positive. We can't make everyone happy, anyway."
At the Last Turn Saloon, employee Jilene Laney said her bar, too, had a decrease in sales right after the ban went into effect but since have had a few customers return.
The change in seasons might have something to with that, Laney said.
"The ones that smoke still wish they could inside but now that the weather is nice I think it will make a big difference," she said. "No one wants to have to stand outside when it's 20 below out."
Robert Rohlfing, president and general manager of Rohlfing Wholesale Distributing, said he's seen a decline in the business since the ban went into effect.
But Rohlfing, who also is a smoker, said some blame for the decline in business should be put on the people who claimed they would frequent bars more often if smoking wasn't allowed inside.
"That's a little disturbing," Rohlfing said. "They still haven't come out."
The biggest impact of the smoking ban may be on charitable gambling.
King Wilson, executive director of Allied Charities of Minnesota, said a recent impact study found that since the smoking ban went into effect sales of pulltabs have fallen 6 percent in October, 12 percent in November, 18-19 percent in December and 19-20 percent in January.
"Last year 56 groups went out of business, about one per week, and this year we're seeing many more," Wilson said. "It wouldn't surprise me to see a dozen or more a month for a while."
Jennifer Hoffman, gambling manager for Heartland Animal Rescue Team's pulltab sites at Bar Harbor Supper Club, the Blue Ox, the Waterfall, the Eclectic Cafe and Liquor Pigz Sports Bar, said the recent economic slump has had as much of an impact as the smoking ban.
"It's been pretty much even across the board, a decline at every site," Hoffman said.
Both Hoffman and Wilson said the true measure of how far down charitable gambling sales have gone will be in the summer months, when smokers are more apt to visit area bars and restaurants because they can smoke outside.
Wilson also noted the Gambling Control Board and the Legislature will be looking at the rules and regulations that govern charitable gambling to see if improvements to business models can be made.
The smoking ban was signed into law by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to protect employees and the public from the health hazards of secondhand smoke. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, secondhand smoke is a leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.
Businesses have to post no smoking signs, ask people who are smoking to stop or leave if they refuse, refrain from providing ashtrays and refuse to serve non-compliant people. Businesses will be monitored for compliance by the department of health, and local law enforcement agencies can issue petty misdemeanor citations for businesses or individuals who don't comply.
Soderlund said he's had a few people who forgot about the ban and light up inside, but for the most part people have been cooperative.
Outdoor smoking is still allowed, regardless of distance from building openings such as doors or windows. Many bars have placed smoke butlers at entrances to collect cigarette butts.
Rohlfing said he expects to see more outdoor patios, such as the screened in porch area created at Liquor Pigz Sports Bar, to be built if possible. He also believes winter smoking shelters will become common.
As for charitable gambling, Wilson said only time will tell if sales will continue to decline.
"I have to be hopeful because that's part of my job," Wilson said.
"Will charitable gambling go away? My answer is no. One of the beauties of it is it appears in virtually every part of the state and helps out so many. We all have a vested interest, including the state, which is the No. 1 beneficiary of charitable gambling. The Legislature will want to do something because the state is taking a hit, too."
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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