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Preservation of life

Interest in 100 percent smoking bans is growing as recent health studies show less exposure to secondhand smoke leads to fewer public health issues. The latest is a study funded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and publ...

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Interest in 100 percent smoking bans is growing as recent health studies show less exposure to secondhand smoke leads to fewer public health issues.

The latest is a study funded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and published in "Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association."

Released last month, the study shows that non-smoking ordinances have the potential to improve the cardiovascular health of a community.

"It's strong research that indicates (smoking bans) are a lifesaver," said Rich Fenno, tobacco control coordinator at Fargo-Cass Public Health.

Those results come on the heels of the Surgeon General's report this summer that confirmed secondhand smoke is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and there is no safe level of exposure to it.

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"We're excited about what people are saying and what we're learning," said June Herman, senior director of advocacy for the American Heart Association. Her office is in Jamestown, N.D. "We'd welcome communities to re-look at going completely smoke-free."

That's exactly what SAFE - the Smokefree Air for Everyone Coalition - in Fargo-Moorhead will be doing over the next few months.

The group is informally talking to local elected officials to find out if they would support a 100 percent indoor smoking ban in West Fargo, Fargo, Moorhead and Dilworth, said Nancy Otto, a Moorhead City Commissioner and a member of the coalition.

Local officials believe that it's only a matter of time before Minnesota or North Dakota go completely smoke free in public places.

Right now Minnesota doesn't have a statewide law, but some communities like Moorhead have restricted smoking. North Dakota also has a smoking ban with exceptions.

Those laws are considered incremental steps toward what many believe will someday be a ban on smoking in all indoor public places.

"We see the handwriting on the wall," Otto said. "It's just a matter of which state goes first."

To lessen that effect on the border communities, the SAFE Coalition would like to see Dilworth, Moorhead, Fargo and West Fargo agree to adopt a 100 percent smoking ban at the same time. Then the larger community would avoid the unfair playing field that popped up after Minnesota adopted a 2 a.m. closing time for bars before North Dakota did, Otto said.

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"Anytime business owners face an uneven playing field, they become afraid," she said. "If we could move forward on our own, it would make us immune to whatever either state does."

Any decision made would need to be on a larger scale than just one city, said Dr. Tim Mahoney, a Fargo City Commissioner.

"Communities don't want to harm businesses, but they want to watch out for the health of workers as well," he said.

The Colorado research project evaluated the impact of a 2003 smoking ban on Pueblo, a 103,600-person city in southern Colorado. The ban forbids smoking in indoor workplaces and all public buildings, including bars.

Less than two years after the ordinance took effect, admissions for heart attacks for Pueblo residents dropped 27 percent, according to the study.

Researchers compared admissions at Pueblo's two hospitals 18 months before and 18 months after the ordinance took effect. Both hospitals provide care for heart attacks in the county.

The study's authors included information from other students that show coronary blood vessels are sensitive to secondhand smoke. Within only minutes or hours of exposure, the blood vessel is less able to expand when needed and platelets in the blood become stickier and more likely to form clots.

The study mirrors and expands upon the results of a shorter study involving a nonsmoking ordinance in Helena, Mont. There, heart attacks fell 40 percent in the six months the ordinance was in effect, but returned to previous levels after the ordinance was suspended.

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Area cities' smoking ban ordinances

- Fargo: The ordinance eliminates smoking in all public, indoor workplaces except truck stops and enclosed bars that restrict people under 21.

- West Fargo: Smoking is only allowed in establishments that, as of Aug. 1, 2004, hold a city liquor license and restrict access to those under 21. Six West Fargo bars meet those requirements.

Some want to match West Fargo's ordinance with the state ban, which permits smoking in stand-alone bars and in bars within restaurants if the two sections are separated. The West Fargo Commission will consider the change at its meeting at 5:30 p.m. today in the West Fargo City Hall.

- Moorhead: Smoking is prohibited in most public indoor places including restaurants, workplaces, public buildings and offices. Smokers can only light up in bars that don't admit minors and in restaurant bar areas enclosed by walls.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534

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