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Tu-Uyen Tran, Forum Communications Co., Published May 06 2010

Not enough signatures for Grand Forks smoking ban referendum

There will be no challenge to Grand Forks’ new smoking ban in November.

Bar owners gathering signatures to petition the City Council for a referendum said they came up short on the 3,815 signatures needed, and Wednesday was the deadline to submit the signatures.

There were only about 2,900 after eliminating illegible signatures and signatures from people who live outside of town, according to Tony Kvasager and Mike McMenamy.

Kvasager, who owns Big Daddy’s bar, and McMenamy, who owns McMenamy’s Tavern, led the signature gathering.

They and many other bar owners hoped to put the ban up for a public vote and, with any luck, get it repealed. Now they’ll have to get ready to comply with the law and, they say, deal with the financial repercussions.

The council voted the ban into law April 5, ending the exemption for bars, truck stops and casinos. It goes into effect Aug. 15.

Council members were convinced to do so after a survey commissioned by the Grand Forks Tobacco Free Coalition found that 75 percent of adults in the city wanted smoking banned in bars because secondhand smoke is hazardous.

By law, anyone wishing to refer a new law to a public vote had 30 days from the day it passed to gather enough signatures.

Kvasager and McMenamy said they thought bar owners would unite in the effort, but found that some just weren’t very helpful.

“Maybe they don’t think it’ll hurt them,” Kvasager said. For his part, he said, he’s looking at his budget for places to cut.

McMenamy said he’s already cut his advertising budget and will not be hiring two additional employees as he planned this fall.

Both told council members they believe the bar industry would take a hit if the smoking ban passed because smokers will stay home instead of going out to drink. Council members and public health advocates claimed that nonsmokers, who stayed away because of secondhand smoke, will go out more.

Besides being ready for budget cuts, Kvasager and McMenamy are preparing to build smoking patios to offer smoking customers some shelter from the wind this winter. The city plans to meet with them and other bar owners today to talk about what kinds of patio city codes allow.

Tran is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.