BAXTER -- On Tuesday, Baxter City Council members will begin looking at a first for Crow Wing County -- the possibility of a smoking ban within the city.
Baxter restaurant owners, however, have mixed reactions about any sort a ban.
Kevin Stumpf, owner of Country Kitchen in Baxter, said the city of Baxter only should go non-smoking in bars and restaurants if Brainerd and Crow Wing County go non-smoking.
"I cannot go non-smoking and irritate 30 percent of my customers who are smoking unless everyone goes non-smoking," Stumpf said. "It would hurt bar and restaurant business in Baxter," if Brainerd and Crow Wing County continued to allow smoking.
Steve Letnes, owner of Poncho and Lefty's and Grizzly's in Baxter, said any type smoking ban should be universal and not exclude places like bowling alleys and clubs.
"We're opposed to anything where they discriminate against certain types of places that serve alcohol," Letnes said. "We're not opposed to a universal ban. Then there's a level playing field. Then we could go along with it.
"If there's going to be a ban, I'd be in favor of an all-out ban for the whole state."
The idea of a smoking ban was broached by Mark Cross, Baxter City Council member, at the council's Aug. 3 meeting. Cross said he has been approached by a few Baxter restaurant owners and managers who've expressed concerns for health associated with smoking, not only for customers but employees.
"They have to work a full shift in a smoky atmosphere," Cross said, noting employees of bars and restaurants don't have a choice of which section they work. "Even if they don't smoke they walk away with the affects of eight hours of second hand smoke."
Baxter would be the first Crow Wing County city to consider some form of a smoking ban. In 2000 the Little Falls City Council approved an ordinance banning smoking in all public restaurants, city buildings and city vehicles, but Little Falls residents rejected the ordinance in a 2001 referendum.
If approved, Baxter would join Minneapolis, Duluth, Bloomington, Moorhead, Moose Lake and Cloquet as Minnesota cities to have passed ordinances banning smoking. Moorhead's ordinance prohibits smoking in all indoor public workplaces, including restaurants, retail stores, bars, arenas, public conveyances, hospitals, auditoriums, meeting rooms and common areas of hotels and motels. Minneapolis' ordinance prohibits smoking in bowling alleys, pool halls, liquor and food establishments.
Baxter City Administrator Dennis Coryell will bring several sample ordinances from cities across Minnesota to Tuesday's council meeting. He said another issue for bars and restaurants is workers compensation claims related to smoking.
"We've heard from people on both sides of issues, so we thought it best to study it," Coryell said. "We want to get a handle on what's going on out there, because some people in community are saying 'Let's do it.'"
The issue hasn't been addressed by the Brainerd City Council or the Crow Wing County Board. Brainerd Mayor James Wallin said rather than an ordinance, the decision on banning smoking should be left up to individual establishments. He also said people have a choice whether they want to be a customer in or work at an establishment that allows smoking.
"To me it's up to the individuals," Wallin said. "To have a law saying eating establishments and drinking establishments can have no smoking, we won't see it (in Brainerd) for a while. It will probably be down the road a bit."
Stumpf said Baxter and Brainerd have been aggressive when it comes to enacting new standards, but in this case he feels the two cities should wait and see what happens in other Minnesota cities where smoking has been prohibited in bars and restaurants.
"That's the acid test," Stumpf said. "I do know the Country Kitchen in Duluth suffered a bit when that city went non smoking."
Letnes also owns the Grizzly's in Duluth, and said his business dropped 30 percent when that city's smoking ban went into effect in 2000. He said he and other Duluth restaurants and bar owners lost business to neighboring Hermantown, which doesn't have a smoking ban.
Cross said he expected the opposite would happen in Baxter, where restaurants would see an increase in business with a city-wide smoking ban, especially considering almost all of Baxter's bars and restaurants are corporate franchises like Grizzly's or Applebee's.
Cross said one Baxter restaurant owner told him his restaurant would have been smoke-free already but he didn't want to be the only restaurant in Baxter to do so.
"People are staying away now," Cross said. "I don't see (a smoking ban) as a problem, I see it as a solution to health issues."
MATT ERICKSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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