The freedom to breathe

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June 14, 2004 // UPDATED 2:08 pm - April 25, 2007
By: rell Brown
rell Brown

Smoking bans are in the news, but there are more of them than you know

I've had some time now to search for something that the Minnesota Legislature did this past year that benefits Downtown. I think I have finally found it. They saved the volleyball courts.

Sixteen sand volleyball courts sit under a couple of the viaducts that take I-394 traffic out of Downtown just west of Target Center. Some over at the Legislature were proposing to sacrifice recreation in the urban core for a state-of-the-art baseball stadium. In the eyes of these proponents, a "state-of-the-art" stadium is any stadium not covered by a large sheet of Teflon.

You've got to admit it was an interesting committee vote over in the state House of Representatives. Those who represent areas that would foot the bill for a stadium voted "no," while those who represent areas that would send the bill elsewhere voted "yes." Apparently, enough people were going to pay that the volleyball courts will live another year (or at least until a special session, whichever occurs first).

The past legislative session will, however, be better remembered for what it didn't do.

One of the issues that the Legislature ignored was House File 1451, a project of Minneapolis Representatives Kahn, Kelliher, Clark, Hornstein and Biernat plus a couple of others. House File 1451 would have cleaned up the air, the air inside, inside of restaurants and bars.

Kahn and Kelliher were not proposing a smoking ban; their bill would have allowed smoking in designated areas as long as smoke from the area was contained in the area. Employees could not be required to enter the smoking area; entire bars and restaurants could not be designated as smoking areas.

Kahn, a Ph.D. in biophysics, led the fight for the original Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act. Although it doesn't take a biophysicist to know that there is no way that a cigar or cigarette can be used safely, Kahn continues to lead the fight for clean indoor air. In no other industry would employees be required to work in an environment that is a proven health hazard.

But then, what other product with absolutely no safe uses is allowed to remain on the market? We recall products that pose much less of a hazard.

Perhaps that is why Minneapolis Sen. Scott Dibble introduced Senate File 2381, "The Freedom to Breathe Act of 2004." The Freedom to Breathe Act simply prohibits smoking in places of employment and public places. It specifically included outdoor restaurant seating as a public place. The Senate Health and Family Security Committee recommended passage of the bill.

The Legislature called it quits and went home. Then along come some City Council members here in Minneapolis, some more over in St. Paul and Roseville and Bloomington. The Councilmembers have a new proposal: ban smoking in bars and restaurants.

Leadership isn't something we've seen much of out of City Hall in the last decade or so. One usually well-reasoned Councilmember has expressed concern that a smoking ban might put Minneapolis at a competitive disadvantage.

Disadvantage compared to what? Since when do you sacrifice the health of thousands of people for the sake of a competitive advantage?

The mayor? Undecided. That's the same mayor who, to his credit, goes out of his way to promote healthy activities in the city. Cross-country skiing, biking, you name it. He's probably even played sand volleyball.

The Legislature's saving recreational opportunities was a good thing; the City Council's saving lives would be even better.

Terrell Brown, who lives in Loring Park, can be reached at Letters to the editor can be sent to