February 21, 2011 - The County Board is considering banning all tobacco use anywhere on county grounds, inside and out, even if you're parked on county property in your own car. Lighting up is already banned inside the Hennepin County (most populous county in Minnesota) Government Center in Minneapolis but if new proposals are approved, smokers may be liable for fines on pavements outside and in vehicles parked on county grounds.
Board chairman Mike Opat said the new ban would tackle ‘an ugly and disgusting habit that visits itself on everybody else’. The policy change, which could be taken up by county commissioners next month and take effect this summer, comes as new tobacco regulations are being implemented around the country and others might be loosened. If passed, the ban would take effect from July 1 at county buildings, with further measures rolled out at libraries, county sites and county-leased properties over the subsequent months.
Jill Hamilton, who runs the Hennepin County Healthworks programme, said smokers would not be sought out but redirected by security staff if spotted lighting up on prohibited ground. The intent is not to punish anybody, it's to create a healthy environment,’ she told the Star Tribune.
Supporters of the plans believe it would reduce county employees' exposure to secondhand smoke as well as improving workplace productivity and creating a cleaner environment outside county buildings.
‘If we're able to pass this policy, it would help pave the way for other counties going through the same struggles and pave the way as an example,’ said Tera King, wellness analyst for the Healthworks programme.
It was reported earlier this month that several hospitals and medical firms are not considering job applications from smokers while the Hennepin County proposals seem aligned to a growing nationwide movement for smoking bans in public buildings.
But while the Hennepin County Board is taking a stand on public health issues, other state legislators want a smoking-ban for bars and restaurants to be repealed. At the same time, some Minnesota legislators want to partly repeal the state's three-year-old smoking ban for bars and restaurants, making it legal to smoke in sealed-off rooms at bars that serve food. They say the ban is an intrusive government edict that hurts business.
The plan to prohibit smoking on county property has also been questioned by Commissioner Jeff Johnson - a non-smoker – who said legislation could be heavy-handed when smokers could simply walk across the road from county buildings.
References: Minnesota set to ban smoking ANYWHERE on county grounds (even inside cars in the parking lot) by Daily Mail Reporter, DailyMail.co.uk, 2/21/2011; Hennepin County tries to quit the habit by KEVIN DUCHSCHERE, Star Tribune, 2/19/2011.