56 businesses warned on smoking ban

Smoker
Smoking was banned in most Minnesota businesses last October first. The state health department is investigating violations of the law.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

Forget about a rowdy bar getting the state's first smoking fine. It goes instead to a buttoned-down real estate office in a Twin Cities suburb. Richard Stanton helps run Minnesota R.E.O. Properties in Eden Prairie.

"We were reported for smoking in the office," says Stanton. "The Smoking people came over. At that time they said, 'Look, we don't want you to do this. Post the signs, post the office or we'll fine you.'"

Stanton says he followed those orders. He says some people in the two-story office building continued to light up. State health officials then made an on-site visit.

"They smelled smoke," says Stanton, "and said, 'You're smoking in here. We're going to get back to you.' They did with a letter and they fined us $1,000."

"We're not out there strolling the streets looking for violations of the law."

Stanton says he paid the fine. The state health department's Tom Hogan says the 56 warning letters have gone to some bars but also manufacturing, retail and other types of businesses.

He says the department has seven cases still under investigation. Hogan says all of the letters and investigations began with a citizen complaint, mostly from employees of the warned companies. He says the state is not conducting any sting operations to enforce the ban.

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"We're not out there strolling the streets looking for violations of the law. We are responding to public concerns or complaints when we do receive them," says Hogan.

The indoor smoking ban covers most businesses with two or more employees. Casinos on Indian-owned land are exempt. The state health department's Tom Hogan says most businesses are following the smoking law.

"I would say we're mildly surprised at how well compliance has been. We're looking to continue education of the public and the facilities on the requirements," says Hogan.

The smoking ban has made a believer out of real estate agent Richard Stanton. He says he's going to quit smoking. He says there's not enough time to both run the business and scoot outside to light up.