Bismarck City Commissioners Tuesday agreed to allow bars to build smoking huts near their businesses, but kept the Nov. 1 start of a new smoking ban for pubs.
The law allows shelters to be built for smoking patrons away from the bar, yet bans employees from serving or working in the huts on behalf of their employers. Workers may enter the smoke area during time off or breaks. No food will be allowed in the huts.
Workers also may enter for an emergency or during an altercation.
Commissioner Josh Askvig said patrons may bring their drinks into the smoke huts if the structures are secured and have a chain-link at open areas.
Commissioners were met with a full house at the City/County Building as they heard an hour’s worth of testimony for and against delaying the smoking ban to make time to build the huts.
Bars owners asked for an April 1 extension.
“The time frame of getting one of these built is tough. It’s going to be impossible for me,” said Brian Hill, owner of Lucky’s. “It’s bad timing. We’ve got snow around the corner.”
The medical community and advocates of the Bismarck Chapter of the Tobacco Free Coalition opposed any delays for the smoking ban, approved in late August.
Dr. Steve Hamar, a physician at MidDakota Clinic said the huts should be for smoking only, not another part of the bar. He said secondhand smoke is still a killer.
“At the Aug. 24 commission meeting, a Nov. 1 implement date was given in order to give bars time to prepare,”Hamar said. “I do believe that is a generous time frame to be able to accomplish the goal — to stop smoking in bars to protect the public health of the workers and the patrons of the bar.”
Hamar said signs should be put up ahead of time to tell customers of the ban. He said that the coalition has prepared them.
Commissioner Parrell Grossman, who sponsored the smoking hut bill, said, “April 1 wasn’t the magic date.” He attempted to compromise by setting the smoking ban back to Dec. 1 instead. His motion died for a lack of a second.
“The community as a whole set an expectation that Nov. 1 would be the day we go smoke-free,” Askvig said after the meeting. “I believe it is a health issue. The longer we wait to implement, the more concern we have about health.”
He said plenty of time was given to let bar owners adapt to the smoking ban.
“Moving that back another month was not going to change the ability of those bar owners to get that done in my opinion,” Askvig said.
Mayor John Warford said he asked local contractors if a smoking hut could be finished in a month and he was told that was reasonable.
“If they used local building materials, they could get it done by Nov. 1 and put cement work in right away,” he said. Warford said he believes the Nov. 1 deadline and allowing the huts was a fair compromise.
“It was all about secondhand smoke. … The actions of smokers can injure somebody else. That was the whole premise,” Warford said.
“The city commission threw out a ‘life line’ to the bar owners by allowing the ‘butt huts.’ The bar owners will probably not be as happy about the time because they’re really going have to (get) cracking on their butt huts rather than have it be more leisurely.”
He said the business concerns were considered in allowing the huts.
“After all, Mandan is not like Bismarck. It’s not smoke-free,” he said. “I think the compromise was good. Probably not everybody is happy. But we looked at the business man as well.”
The new law allows structures that:
- Measure no more than 300 square feet.
- Have at least a 25 percent opening.
- Will not have patrons served there.
- Have no tables.
- Allow patrons to bring their own drinks to the huts if there is a dedicated door.
Tuesday, commissioners added requirements that the huts’ openings would have chain links in front of them.
A second change was that employees would not serve drinks in the butt huts and only enter in an emergency or if they were off duty.
Commissioner Mike Seminary was absent.
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