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Smoke-Free North Dakota starts effort for public smoking prohibition

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On the heels of Linton voters urging their city council to make the town the ninth smoke-free municipality in North Dakota, Smoke-Free North Dakota announced it will try to snuff out smoking in indoor public places and places of employment statewide.

The organization wants to gather 13,452 signatures to get a statewide smoking ban on the ballot for the November general election. The signatures must be turned in to the North Dakota Secretary of State by Aug. 8 to make the ticket.

On Tuesday, 67 percent of Linton residents voted to urge the Linton City Council to approve a smoke-free ordinance. The city council will get the final say, as Tuesday’s action was only an advisory vote.

“The people of Linton have spoken with their vote, and we’re hopeful the Linton City Council will do the right thing and approve a city-wide smoke-free ordinance,” North Dakota Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy Director Jeanne Prom said.

Sharon Jangula, city administrator for Linton, said a group of Linton citizens asked the city council to enact a smoking ban earlier this spring. The city council put the matter on the ballot to find out how the town as a whole felt about the matter. She expects the council to make a decision at its July 2 meeting.

Bismarck, Cavalier, Devils Lake, Fargo, Grand Forks, Napoleon, Pembina and West Fargo already have ordinances prohibiting smoking in buildings open to the public, including bars, such as the one proposed in Linton. Chelsey Matter, chairwoman for Smoke-Free North Dakota’s sponsoring committee for the initiated measure, said those ordinances cover 37 percent of North Dakota residents.

“That’s a great start, but we want to do better,” she said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon in the state Capitol’s Memorial Hall.

Matter, a West Fargo respiratory therapist who works in the insurance industry and is volunteering her time for the effort, said the statewide vote will give a voice to all voters, including those from small towns who may feel uncomfortable speaking out on the matter.

“We know the minority can be very vocal on this,” she said.

Matter said the initiated measure is a grassroots effort that will need fundraising but also has the support of the American Lung Association. Volunteers plan to gather signatures at events throughout the summer, including at the State Fair in Minot. She believes getting the backing of more than 13,000 people in the state in less than two months can be done.

“We certainly have a lot of support out there,” she said.

Bismarck attorney Jack McDonald drafted the measure for the group, Matter said. She said Smoke-Free North Dakota wanted the potential law to be strong and free of loopholes. As drafted, it would also prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes in public places, smoking within 20 feet of exits and entrances to public buildings and smoking in publicly used transportation such as taxis.

Matter said the potential statewide vote would put the decision on the matter in the hands of the people, rather than lawmakers.

“Let’s let the people of the state make the decision,” she said.

Jangula believes the discussion on whether Linton should go smoke-free could heat up now that the advisory vote is over and the decision rests with the city council.

“I do believe it becomes a pretty passionate subject for some,” she said.

Prom said her office has not been part of the Smoke-Free North Dakota effort to get a smoking ban on the ballot, but the center does support the measure. Part of the center’s state plan is to significantly reduce statewide tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

“One of the best ways to do that is to change the social norm around smoking,” she said.

The Linton vote, along with similar votes in other municipalities that preceded it, gives Matter reason to believe it’s time for a statewide measure. Prom said the eight cities that have decided to ban public smoking have done so since 2008. The most recent ban was the one in Cavalier, which will go into effect on July 1. In that case, the city council voted unanimously for the ban. Numerous statewide and local surveys have shown broad support for such laws, Prom said.

“There’s certainly a lot of momentum with all the cities that have gone in the past year, year and a half,” Matter said.

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