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Smoking ban gains support

A study released Wednesday by a coalition of North Dakota health organizations showed a majority of North Dakotans support a smoking ban in most indoor places.

A study released Wednesday by a coalition of North Dakota health organizations showed a majority of North Dakotans support a smoking ban in most indoor places.

According to the Keep Kids Tobacco Free study, which polled 403 North Dakota voters, 73 percent said they would vote yes if a smoking ban were put to a vote.

Those results were not surprising to respiratory therapist Jay Taylor, himself a longtime smoker but now part of the movement to have cigarettes banned from public places.

"I'm pretty much on the front line as far as seeing the results of smoking -- long-term smoking and even short-term smoking. Second-hand smoke affects kids; it affects all ages," said Taylor, who works at Fargo's MeritCare Hospital.

The study's results were released one day after data was made public from another smoking survey conducted by the North Dakota State Data Center at North Dakota State University.

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In that study, which polled 861 adults from three northwestern Minnesota counties and Richland County in North Dakota, 79 percent said society has a responsibility to protect children from secondhand smoke.

The Keep Kids Tobacco Free survey reflected similar attitudes toward secondhand smoke, with 76 percent of respondents identifying secondhand smoke as either somewhat harmful or very harmful to people's health. The survey was sponsored by the American Heart Association, American Lung Association of North Dakota, American Cancer Society and the North Dakota Medical Association.

Despite public support for a smoking ban, North Dakota Legislatures have largely left the issue in the hands of local governments and individuals.

Some business owners also remain skeptical of measures that would alienate potential clientele.

Dirk Lenthe, owner of the Stamart Travel Center off Interstate 29 in north Fargo, said when the truck stop's Northtown Grill restaurant opens in July, it will have smoking sections so it can compete.

"I wouldn't voluntarily do it (ban smoking) because I'd just be sending my customers down the road to the competition," Lenthe said.

Rather than impose local bans, Lenthe said he would prefer to see statewide legislation, which would put all North Dakota restaurants and businesses on an equal playing field.

Still, slow progress at the state level has the clean air coalition directing significant attention toward changes on the local level.

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"We support more local ordinances because we find that they're more effective and more easily enforced than the statewide blanketed legislation," said Linda Kohls, executive director of the American Cancer Society of North Dakota.

Kohls said a policy is being drawn up that could be introduced to Fargo city leaders as early as September. Ultimately, Kohls said she would like to see the Fargo-Moorhead metro area smoke free.

"We all have a right to breathe healthy smoke-free air in our workplaces, public places and restaurants," Kohls said. "More and more, North Dakotans are standing up for that right."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Nick Kotzea at (701) 235-7311

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