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Published June 19 2012

Forum editorial: Smoking measure a good bet

The coalition seeking a comprehensive smoking ban in North Dakota will have no trouble getting the 13,452 signatures needed by Aug. 8 to get the measure on the November ballot. North Dakota’s secretary of state approved the measure petition last week, and the signature-gathering effort is under way.

The measure is a response to the Legislature’s refusal to extend the current state ban in most indoor spaces used by the public to bars and other indoor workplaces, tobacco shops, private nursing-home rooms, taxis and all motel rooms. The ban would also extend to outdoor stadiums. The proposed statewide ban would be similar to bans in place in Fargo, West Fargo, Devils Lake, Bismarck, Grand Forks and Napoleon. In those cities, bans were imposed either by city councils/commissions or by a vote of the people. In every case where votes were conducted, the sentiment for a ban was overwhelming. The same will be true if the statewide smoking ban measure gets on the November ballot.

The arguments against a ban are old, tired and beginning to be covered with the dust of history’s dustbin. Despite their out-of-step Legislature, North Dakotans have concluded that smoking and secondhand smoke are primarily health issues, not business matters. When the director of the North Dakota Hospitality Association, Rudie Martinson, says business owners should decide whether to ban smoking on their premises, he surely must know that ship has sailed.

“It’s our job to serve our customers ... ” he said, “and if our customers demand something like that, then that’s something we will respond to. It shouldn’t take the heavy hand of government to dictate that to us.”

First, the idea that everything the customer wants, the customer gets is just plain silly. If customers wanted broken glass on the bar floor or naked 16-year-olds dancing on the tables, would the association wink and say, “That’s just fine, fellas”?

Second, a vote of the people of North Dakota is not “the heavy hand of government.” A vote is an expression of the wishes of the people. Indeed, the Legislature’s “heavy hand” on the smoking issue has been more like a feathery tickle.

The campaign against the measure will resurrect the old bugaboos about government intervention, personal freedom and business rights. But all of it has been hashed, rehashed and dismissed by voters in North Dakota cities and in cities and states all over the nation. If it’s on the ballot in November, it’s a safe bet a ban will pass.


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


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