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EGF restaurants respond to possible smoking ban

Several East Grand Forks restaurants that currently have smoking sections could be subject to a statewide smoking ban, but area managers aren't sure how much strain that will put on their businesses.

Several East Grand Forks restaurants that currently have smoking sections could be subject to a statewide smoking ban, but area managers aren't sure how much strain that will put on their businesses.

On Thursday, a statewide smoking ban passed the Minnesota House Health and Human Services Committee on a 12-6 vote. The bill would ban smoking in businesses such as bars and restaurants including private clubs much like it already is banned in public buildings. It is the first of many hurdles the ban will face before it becomes law.

With a designated smoking area of only 18 seats around the bar, Mike's Pizza and Pub in downtown EGF isn't a hot spot for smokers in the first place, according to general manager Sherry Aarnes."We have an open mic night on Thursdays, and then we have a lot of smokers, but other than that, there is hardly anyone in smoking," Aarnes said. "I don't think that the ban will affect us too much."

Tory Crowe, manager at the Blue Moose Bar and Grill, said he had to go through the same thing with a restaurant he managed in North Dakota and doesn't feel it will affect business adversely. He said the Grand Forks smoking ban didn't improve business enough to lead him to believe a Minnesota ban would harm it.

"I think it is inevitable that the ban will pass," Crowe said. "But as long as we are meeting our guests' expectations, then business won't be any different."

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However inevitable a ban might be in some restaurant owners' eyes, Brad Betting, owner of Season's Restaurant, supports the ban and doesn't think it should be a matter of money.

"This isn't a business issue, this is a public health issue," Betting said. "We have been smoke free since August of 2005 because I don't think it should be a job requirement to stand in a cloud of smoke that is bad for your health."

All three business owners did agree on one particular aspect of the bill, however. There is a possibility that the ban could exempt private clubs, such as VFW, American Foreign Legion or the Eagles clubs.

"It should be all or nothing," Aarnes said. "If they are putting a ban on smoking, they should give all of us the chance for a level playing field."

With East Grand Forks restaurateurs not seeming too shaky over a possible ban, some Grand Forks establishments that allow smoking during certain hours or because of the amount of liquor sales they have, say it might be a benefit to them.

"If it changes to where you can't smoke in Minnesota, there is no question that it would help our business," said Dennis Blackmun, co-owner of Joe Black's in downtown Grand Forks.

"I do expect the ban to pass, and I don't think North Dakota will be far behind Minnesota, so it's inevitable," Blackmun said. "But until then, it is advantageous for business if we allow smokers here."

Even if Blackmun is given the upper hand in the smoking crowd, he does agree with Betting, Crowe, and Aarnes that the band should include everyone or no one. "It needs to be even for everyone," said Blackmun. "Then you really see who is the best."

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The Minnesota smoking ban bill still must go through a number of House and Senate committees, with one of its toughest challenges coming in a House commerce committee on its next stop.

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