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Associated Press, Published October 09 2010

Bar workers want Bismarck smoke ban repealed

BISMARCK – A group of Bismarck bar workers have begun a campaign to repeal two city ordinances that ban smoking in bars and a handful of other businesses where state law still allows indoor smoking.

The ban takes effect Nov. 1. Referendum supporters need to gather at least 970 petition signatures by Oct. 25. If they reach their signature goal, the ordinance will be suspended until Bismarck residents vote on whether to keep the smoking restrictions, which advocates say are needed to protect nonsmoking bar employees from secondhand smoke.

Employees from more than a dozen Bismarck bars are sponsoring the repeal measure because they believe it will result in layoffs and less tip income, said Keith Holzer, a spokesman for the group. Critics of the ban fear that smoking customers will instead drive about six miles across the Missouri River to Mandan, which has no restrictions on bar smoking.

“This is employee-driven. It’s all about employees to protect their jobs and their paychecks,” said Holzer, general manager of Dakota Music, which supplies pool tables, dart board machines, jukeboxes and video games to Bismarck bars.

Bismarck has 15 businesses licensed to serve liquor that allow smoking and 62 that do not, Holzer said.

North Dakota law bans most indoor smoking, but lawmakers have rejected proposals to extend the prohibition to bars, truck stops, clubs and tobacco shops. The cities of Fargo, West Fargo and Grand Forks already have comprehensive smoking-ban ordinances similar to Bismarck’s.

The Bismarck City Commission approved two ordinances. The first, endorsed on Aug. 24, banned smoking in bars, truck stops, tobacco shops and private clubs, beginning Nov. 1. The second, approved Sept. 28, added rules allowing bars to build outdoor “butt huts” where smoking would be permitted. The bar employees’ referral campaign targets both ordinances.

City Commissioner Parrell Grossman said Bis-marck residents have a right to put the ordinance on the ballot, but he said a special election will cost about $30,000.

“There is strong community support for the smoking ban ordinances,” Grossman said. “I believe a repeal will be soundly rejected.”

Bar employees who spoke at a news conference Friday said they chose to work in bars that allow smoking.

“Everybody was trying to save us,” said Lisa Moltzen, a server at the Sports Page bar in Bismarck. “Nobody approached us or asked us our opinion if we wanted smoking banned.”

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