Keep your butts outsideby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota smokers beware. If you're headed to a restaurant or bar, you'll have to take that cigarette break outside. Monday, Oct. 1 is the first day of Minnesota's new statewide smoking ban. The ban applies to nearly all public indoor spaces, including bars, restaurants and workplaces.
Brainerd, Minn. — For years, the Pit Stop in downtown Brainerd was a place that beckoned smokers to pull up a stool, light a cigarette and have a beer.
One day late last week, 10 men were lined up at the bar. Eight of them were smoking. One guy at the end of the bar hovered over an afternoon beer with a cigarette in hand. He says you can call him Willie J., and he's a self-admitted and unapologetic longtime smoker.
"I smoked since I was a kid on the farm. I smoked coffee grounds, I smoked silk off of the corn, I smoked ... well I stole cigarette from my dad one time," J. says.
Willie J. talks with a voice made of gravel. He says the statewide smoking ban won't keep him from visiting this bar.
"I'll be out there flipping the cigarettes out in the street, wouldn't you?" he says.
But Ron, who's sitting on the next stool over and won't give his last name, thinks the ban will hurt this bar's business.
"Am I going to keep coming here if I don't smoke? Probably, but not as much," he says.
He worries the people who do show up will be spending more time outside, drunk, getting in fights, and littering the sidewalk with cigarette butts. And Ron doesn't expect a smoke-free Pit Stop is likely to attract new customers.
"The people that don't smoke ain't gonna come in this bar any more often than what they ever did," he argues.
About a block away, at the Brainerd Moose Lodge's bar, you'll find a chorus of opinions on the smoking ban.
"I don't like it, I smoke," says the guy behind the counter.
From the back, in the kitchen, two more voices chime in.
"I like it. I don't smoke," one woman says.
Another chimes in, "You'll like it when you're all alone in this joint."
Terry Torrey, bartender at the Moose Lodge, says some folks worry the ban might keep so many smoking customers away that the lodge will shut down. Torrey doesn't think that'll happen.
He says while some smokers may never come back, others may stay away for a few weeks until they get used to going outside to light up.
But according to Torrey, smoking or not, the lodge's advantage is the events it hosts.
"Cribbage on Mondays, then they have bingo on Wednesdays and Fridays, then they have Texas Hold 'Em," he rattles off the weekly schedule.
Torrey says more non-smokers might stop by to take part when the blue haze of tobacco smoke disappears.
Truth be told, no one in the Brainerd area can be sure what will happen at bars and restaurants under the smoking ban. But in the neighboring town of Baxter, Brian Trettel says a self- imposed smoking ban has been nothing but good news where he works.
Trettel, assistant manager at Famous Dave's, the well-known rib joint with a full service bar, says there've been new faces.
"We've had more increased business, actually, in the bar area, where people are willing to sit there and enjoy our food," Trettel says.
A few people stopped coming in after the restaurant nixed smoking four months ago, but Trettel says they've more than made up the difference with new customers who appreciate the no smoking policy.
While this restaurant may have a different clientele than a smoky bar that doesn't serve food, Trettel thinks in time, everyone will adjust.
"For the first month or so, you're going to hear the grumblings. People trying to go and make it through not having a cigarette with their beer or with their cocktail, or not not having a cigar with their wine. But if you have an establishment people like, and enjoy the atmosphere and cutting out the smoking, people won't leave," he says.
According to Trettel there's been another benefit for him and his workers. When smoking was permitted in the bar area, 90 percent of his employees refused to work in it. Now there's no problem with scheduling employee to work anywhere in the restaurant.
The purpose of the smoking ban, according to state officials, is to keep secondhand smoke out of the lungs of nonsmoking customers and workers at bars and restaurants.
Remember Terry Torrey, the smoking Moose Lodge bartender who doesn't like the ban? He admits it will have an effect on him.
"I'm going to try to quit -- Monday," he says.
Last week, Torrey counted 75 ashtrays at the Brainerd Moose Lodge. Today they're useless, unless he sends them home with customers as souvenirs.
- Morning Edition, 10/01/2007, 7:20 a.m.