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Published June 17 2010

Forum editorial: Napoleon a good barometer on smoking ban

For North Dakota legislators with smoke in their eyes – most of them, it seems – the smoke ban vote in Napoleon, N.D., might be a good barometer of anti-smoking sentiment in the state. The Logan County town recently voted overwhelmingly for a smoking and secondhand smoke ban in bars, although one of the town’s bars opposed it while the other favored it.

The Napoleon vote is instructive because it puts the lie to the cover lawmakers have used to avoid approving a statewide ban that could be modeled after successful bans in Fargo and West Fargo.

Logan County is not a center of liberalism or government nannyism. But it is clear that voters there understand the risks of tobacco smoke and therefore put legitimate health concerns above phony business rights claims.

We say “successful” bans in Fargo and West Fargo because a new study confirms what ban supporters knew (from fallout in other cities) when they pushed for bans in Fargo and West Fargo: Economic impacts come immediately after the bans go into effect, but do not last. Bars, the study said, have done just fine without tobacco. After a short-lived blip, taxable sales for bars actually went up substantially in Fargo and West Fargo. During the same time, bar sales in Grand Forks, which has no smoke ban, dipped more than 20 percent. A Grand Forks ban goes into effect Aug. 15. Prediction: The sky will not fall on Grand Forks bars.

The study was commissioned by Fargo Cass Public Health and performed by the North Dakota State Data Center. It was released Tuesday.

Like any business sector, the bar business has churn. Some bars do well, some don’t. Since the smoking ban movement took hold a few years ago, a tiny handful of bar owners whose establishments failed were quick to blame smoke bans. But other reasons – from bad management to tough competition to retirements to the economic downturn of the past few years – appear to be bigger factors than smoking bans. Good managers adjust to smoke bans, and, as the study shows, even thrive.

Legislators who are blinded by the toxic smoke of the tavern lobby might want to consider Napoleon, Fargo, West Fargo and Grand Forks when a statewide smoke ban comes up in the 2011 session, as it surely will. They should understand that whenever and wherever a smoke ban has been on the ballot, it’s passed handily. They should peruse the new study that explodes the myth that bars die when a city adopts a smoking ban.

Fact is people, not bars, die because of smoking. Legislators who don’t get that are in effect endorsing sickness and death.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.