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Community group considers smoking ban for Kenmare

The Kenmare Tobacco Coalition is waiting to hear what you think about smoking.

4/27/11 (Wed)

With no legislation coming from the state,
cities are on their own to decide

 

The Kenmare Tobacco Coalition is waiting to hear what you think about smoking.

 

A group of community members met April 19th to consider the idea of asking the Kenmare City Council to approve a comprehensive smoke-free policy for all businesses in town, including bars and truck stops.

 

The policy would be similar to the one Bismarck voters approved last Tuesday. Bismarck now joins Fargo, West Fargo, Grand Forks, Napoleon and Pembina in such efforts, with Devils Lake scheduled to go smoke-free starting July 1st.

 

“Now that the legislative session is almost over and there’s no statewide law on the horizon, I think you’ll see more local communities doing this,” said Holly Brekhus, Tobacco Prevention Community Outreach Coordinator for First District Health Unit. “It’s up to community members to lead and guide and advocate for change.”

 

Survey for smokers

and non-smokers

The process begins by determining opinions about tobacco use in Kenmare. “One of the first things we do is get input from the community,” said Brekhus.

 

FDHU is offering a survey specific to Kenmare for residents ages 18 and older to complete online. Through tomorrow, April 28th, individuals can access the survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/TNL7LYS to answer questions about their own tobacco use and their views about tobacco use by others in public places throughout the community and the state.

 

The survey, which is taken anonymously, also asks demographics questions related to each person’s age, gender, education, etc.

 

A direct link to the survey can be found on the Kenmare website home page at www.kenmarend.com and the First District Health Unit website at www.fdhu.org under “Hot Topics.”

 

The survey was developed to be answered only one time from each computer, so additional paper copies are available at The Kenmare News office, the Kenmare Branch Library, the FDHU office, the Kenmare Clinic and the Kenmare Dental Clinic. Envelopes are provided to keep survey results confidential.

 

Brekhus emphasized the importance of getting several responses to the survey. “Some people are either very passionate for this or very passionate against this,” she said. “It’s the people in the middle who we don’t always hear from.”

 

Confusion over ND law

Brekhus was joined at the Kenmare Tobacco Coalition meeting by Melissa Burud, FDHU public health nurse in Kenmare, and Stacey Schoemer, FDHU public health nurse in Burke County, as well as retired Kenmare public health nurse Ruth Ganes and seven other interested community residents.

 

Burud said she receives complaints from parents of young children about the irony of walking through a cloud of cigarette smoke and piles of cigarette butts to enter the FDHU office in Kenmare, which is located in a building with two other businesses whose employees take smoking breaks outside the front door. “I really heard the comments when I started there,” she said, “especially from moms with younger kids or kids who have some type of respiratory problem.”

 

Ganes recalled she heard similar comments in her years as public health nurse. “We’re surrounded by smoke-free states and provinces,” she said, listing Montana, South Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba as entities with comprehensive smoke-free laws.

 

In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that 25 states and the District of Columbia, most within the past 10 years, have enacted laws to ban smoking in all indoor areas of private sector worksites, restaurants and bars.

 

North Dakota is one of the 10 states that have adopted partial laws for smoke-free workplaces, but not bars.

 

Brekhus reviewed the 2005 North Dakota law with the Kenmare Tobacco Coalition. “All indoor workplaces are smoke-free, with some exceptions,” she said. “Bars, private parties with people over the age of 18 present, and enclosed rooms at truck stops are exempt.”

 

She talked about the confusion created by restaurants that also sold alcohol, such as Applebee’s or Kenmare’s own South of the Border. “If the establishment sells more alcohol than food, then it’s defined as a bar,” she said. “And if kids under the age of 18 are in the building, then you cannot smoke at any time. Local authorities are supposed to enforce that.”

 

Members of the group acknowledged that such enforcement could be difficult, citing the Kenmare Country Club as a location where minors are potentially exposed to secondhand smoke, especially at graduation receptions or other events where families are included. Brekhus agreed.

 

“That’s why if we make all public indoor places smoke-free, you don’t have that issue,” she said.

 

In fact, Brekhus has been asked about the status of smoking at South of the Border on occasion. “We get complaints in our department,” she said. “The latest was when some oil people from Utah came up to Kenmare and scheduled a meeting at South of the Border, and then called us to ask why they allow smoking there.”

 

“A fair number of people would like to see South of the Border go smoke-free,” added Ganes. “I heard a lot of positive comments about that [as public health nurse]. But what about studies done on the potential loss of business?”

 

Brekhus said research has been conducted within the state and across the nation regarding any change in business when an establishment enacts smoke-free policies. “The studies show they may lose business initially, but then it levels off or even exceeds previous revenues,” she said.

 

She referred to a study done in Fargo after that city implemented smoke-free laws. “There has been no economic impact to Fargo as a whole,” she said, “and there are actually more liquor licenses active now than before the city’s smoke-free status.”

 

She continued, “I heard a comment during a meeting in Bismarck that bar owners sell themselves short with that argument. Do customers come to your bar just to smoke? No. They come there because they like you as an owner and what you offer in your bar, because they want to be there to socialize.”

 

Burud reminded the group that Ronnie’s Roadside Pub in Bowbells opened as a smoke-free bar last year. “And they’ve attracted business from Kenmare,” she said.

 

Policy for good health

Brekhus told coalition members that the state’s Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy has mandated clean indoor air. “The goal is to save lives and save money,” she said.

 

The U.S. Surgeon General’s December 2010 report emphasized that smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke cause immediate harm to the human body, triggering physical changes that lead to cancer, heart attacks, lung disease and many other serious illnesses, including damage to the reproductive systems of both men and women.

 

Data from a 2009 report by the CDC suggested that 42,000 children across North Dakota are exposed to secondhand smoke, most in their homes, with 18.6 percent or 92,000 of the state’s adults smoking. Workplaces and homes continue to be main sources of secondhand smoke, and there is no safe level of exposure. Annual health care costs in North Dakota directly caused by smoking total $247 million.

 

According to Brekhus, one of the most cost-effective ways to provide cleaner indoor air is for state or local governments to enact comprehensive smoke-free laws.

 

One member of the group asked about putting the issue to a vote of the community’s residents, but Brekhus suggested working first through the City Council. “Ballot issues tend to divide the community,” she said. “Another way to do this is to present the City Council with a plan. They have two readings on it and vote yes or no, or they can decide to bring it to a vote of the people.”

 

Ganes said she has heard complaints about more government control in such cases.

 

“That’s why the smoke-free idea comes from the community, from a group like this one,” countered Burud.

 

“And that’s why we encourage people to complete the surveys,” added Brekhus. “If people are opposed to it, they should still fill out the survey!”

 

Next steps

The Kenmare Tobacco Coalition will meet again on May 3rd to discuss the survey results. Brekhus will also have sample community smoke-free policies for coalition members to review. “You need to know the policy you’re proposing and the reasons why you want to do this,” she said. “The next step would be to meet with the City Council Health Committee, to present the coalition’s idea.”

 

She noted that FDHU could conduct a more scientific study of community opinions through a random phone survey, similar to those done in Bottineau and Minot, depending on the results of the current online survey.

 

“We can also budget for a Kenmare Tobacco Coalition webpage,” she said.

 

The next meeting of the coalition will be Tuesday, May 3rd, starting at noon at the Pizza Hub, and Brekhus encouraged interested people to join the group.

 

“We’ve got some good community input,” she said. “I definitely think we have enough interest to pursue the issue further, but there’s still an opportunity to come and get involved.”

 

People with further questions about the meeting, the survey or smoke-free policies in general are welcome to contact Kenmare FDHU public health nurse Melissa Burud at 701-385-4328 or Brekhus at 701-852-1376.