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Published October 26 2012

Both sides not surprised by support for North Dakota smoking ban

FARGO – The head of a trade group opposing a statewide smoking ban called poll results showing solid support for the ban “disappointing.”

A poll for Forum Communications published Friday shows 61 percent of voters in support of Measure 4, an initiative that would ban smoking in public places throughout North Dakota.

The poll of 500 likely voters taken Oct. 12-15 has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.

The measure, which was put on the Nov. 6 ballot by a group called Smoke-Free North Dakota, would prohibit smoking in all indoor workplaces where state law currently allows for it. This includes bars, tobacco shops, taxis and more.

Rudie Martinson, director of the North Dakota Hospitality Association, a trade group that represents bars and restaurants and opposes the measure, said though the poll results were disappointing, they were not altogether surprising.

“The banning of smoking in bars and other places is something people seem to be particularly comfortable with,” he said. “But we obviously wish it was left up to the individual businesses.”

Martinson pointed to the 11 North Dakota cities that have already prohibited smoking as an indication that the state seems to be embracing similar bans.

“It has been slowly creeping westward across North Dakota,” he said. “These things seem to be popular.”

Martinson said he will be interested to see how cities and counties without current bans vote in November. The poll showed highest support for the measure in counties where cities already have enacted similar ordinances.

The only places in the poll where voters opposed the ban were Stark and Williams counties in western North Dakota, although the sample size for those counties was too small to be considered significant.

The Hospitality Association has vocally opposed the measure in recent months but hasn’t actively campaigned against it. Martinson said it will continue to talk with its members to ensure they’re able to discuss the issue in their respective communities.

Chelsey Matter, chairwoman of Smoke-Free North Dakota, said she was pleased with the poll results. “We feel pretty good but cautiously as well,” she said.

Like Martinson, Matter wasn’t surprised by the percentage of voters that support the measure, citing the amount of recent public awareness campaigns throughout the state.

“Twenty-nine other states are already smoke-free. The public really gets the issue now,” she said. “There’s been a lot of education over the past few years.”

That education could also explain the broad support for the measure across age, gender and political party lines, she added.

“It’s a health issue, so there shouldn’t be any party lines there. Everybody sees the benefits in going smoke-free,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535