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Published November 01 2012

Measure 4 supporters say smoking ban protects public health; opponents say it goes too far

FARGO – A ballot measure that would ban smoking in public places across North Dakota has reignited the debate about the role of government.

Measure 4, which is on Tuesday’s ballot, would ban smoking in all indoor workplaces where state law now allows for it, including bars, tobacco shops, taxis and more.

The ban would also require people to be at least 20 feet away from buildings while smoking, and would extend to tobaccoless e-cigarettes. Violators could be fined $50.

Chelsey Matter, chairwoman of Smoke-Free North Dakota, the group that placed the measure on the ballot, said the debate largely boils down to health concerns.

“We’ve seen studies that have shown that once you put in a law like this, the rate of heart attacks start to decline,” she said. “When it’s a health hazard, we need to do our part and protect the public’s health.”

Rudie Martinson, director of the North Dakota Hospitality Association, a trade group that opposes the ban, disagreed that smoking has such a widespread effect.

“It’s not affecting everybody,” he said. “It’s only affecting people who voluntarily choose to patronize an establishment that allows smoking.”

For that reason, Martinson said it should be left up to the individual establishments to decide whether to allow smoking.

“It’s always been our position that this type of decision should be up to the owner or the management,” he said.

Martinson also said the measure is too strict, and goes beyond bans enacted in 11 North Dakota cities in its requirements for public signage and outdoor smoking.

“I think it’s very much an overreach,” he said. “If we’re going to do this, why should the state tell Fargo that Fargo’s ordinance isn’t good anymore?”

Other opponents have criticized the ban’s extension to e-cigarettes, which some people use to quit smoking.

Matter argued there are still too many questions about e-cigarettes to not merit their inclusion in the ban.

“They’re not proven to be safe; they’re not approved by the FDA,” she said. “There are a lot of unknowns.”

Banning e-cigarettes, as well as other parts of Measure 4, was based on smoking bans enacted by other states, Matter said.

“We can’t emphasize enough that smoke-free laws save lives and money, and other states have demonstrated that for years,” she said. “We want that in North Dakota. We want to see those benefits here.”

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

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