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Janell Cole, Published January 30 2009

Bar, hotel owners blast plan for ND smoking ban

BISMARCK – Some hotel and bar owners in North Dakota are getting tired of coming to the Legislature to oppose smoking bans, they told a legislative committee Thursday.

But backers of House Bill 1213, a proposal to ban smoking in all hotel rooms and bars, said it’s a matter of saving lives now being lost to secondhand smoke.

The opponents far outnumbered supporters at the hearing that went more than two hours.

“The bottom line is freedom,” said Richard Wenninger, a tavern owner from Hague, N.D. “It’s my tavern. I should decide who smokes in there,” he told the House Political Subdivisions Committee.

“This is about freedom, people,” said another, Arlan Scholl, a trustee for the Bismarck-Mandan Elks Club.

He said that if people are worried about carcinogens or other health hazards, they shouldn’t eat french fries, either.

Rep. Joyce Kingsbury, R-Grafton, is the bill’s prime sponsor; she has sponsored smoking ban bills every session since 2001.

Since then, she said, “The attitude of the public has changed dramatically” in North Dakota as well as in other states and even entire countries.

She said all employees deserve a smoke-free work area, bar employees, included. In some towns, she said, there may not be enough employers to give people a choice of where to work.

Kingsbury sponsored the bill four years ago that led to a total ban on smoking in restaurants and covering virtually all other public and work locations, except for adults-only areas of truck stops, designated hotel rooms and bars.

Other states or cities that have banned smoking in bars have seen a drastic drop in heart attacks, state Health Officer Dr. Terry Dwelle and others told the lawmakers.

Some of those who oppose the smoking ban in hotel rooms were non-smokers who operate hotels.

Mike Motschenbacher said he was only testifying for himself.

He said that if he doesn’t want to be around smoking, he merely avoids places where it is allowed, including places of work.

“I was lucky enough to be born with a brain,” he said.

Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net