Smokers face first winter with smoking ban

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“Since the smoking ban, I take a break and go outside to smoke,” said Mark Zabawa, a regular customer at the Ginkgo coffee house in St. Paul. This sentence has often been heard since March 31, when smoking bans took effect in Ramsey and Hennepin counties. But now that smokers have to face their first winter after the ban, smoking has become a more perilous activity.

“We have a patio just outside of the coffee shop so that smokers can sit while they are smoking. But we won’t do something special for the winter,” said Gingko owner Kathy Sundberg. The Gingko’s case is a special one because about four years ago Sundberg had already decided to make her coffee shop a smoke-free area. “We tried to separate the smokers from the non-smokers, but it was not manageable,” she added. So she and her manager (a smoker) agreed to ban smoking.

“It was a tough decision. We were a little nervous. At the beginning, we lost customers. Then, we changed our policy. We added the play area for the children, which changed our customer base. Six months later, the activity became again normal,” Sundberg added.

Gingko coffeehouse has lived through what other bars and restaurants are experiencing now. The transition is not easy. Hennepin County surveyed businesses to learn more about the impacts of the smoking ban. The conclusion: There is some evidence that smaller businesses were more likely to show a decline in liquor sales and less likely to recoup the decline through increased food sales. It would appear that businesses where liquor sales exceed food sales were more likely to see reduced liquor sales with no offset from increased food sales. On the other hand, there also is evidence that establishments where food sales exceed liquor sales were more likely to have some of the lower liquor sales offset by higher food sales.

As a customer, Kathy Sundberg understands the smoking ban. “I prefer smoke-free places, and I used to go where it was smoke-free. The smoking ban is also a good thing for the employees because they can’t decide,” she said. “But as a business owner, I understand that it is not an easy thing. And it can become a problem if your business is at the edge of a county which doesn’t enforce the smoking ban.”

Hennepin County in November reversed its earlier vote in favor of a smoking ban, Commissioner Mark Stenglein’s amendment to the ordinance that restores the rights of bar and clubs owners to choose smoking or non-smoking where the majority of sales is for bar beverages rather than food passed on a 4-3 vote.

That was what Mark Zabawa thought. “It was up to the owners to decide—not to the City Council or Counties,” he said. He added that he understood Sundberg’s decision. “It brought a lot of customers because she was one of the first to do it in the area. Now, I smoke less, but it was nice to have a cup of coffee and a cigarette.”

Asked whether he thought about changing his habit to come here almost every day, Zabawa replied, “I enjoy writing here. I didn’t want a change of atmosphere, so I changed my attitude!”

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