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BREAKING NEWS

County enforcing smoking-ban law

By Staff | Mar 3, 2008

It’s been five months since smoking was banned in most indoor public places and workplaces. However, state officials have seen fewer violations than expected.

To date, the state health department has sent out nearly 60 warning letters to bars, manufacturers, retailers and other types of businesses across the state.

Tim Langer, public health sanitarian for Martin and Faribault counties, says three businesses have had to be warned.

Langer says two complaints have been received in Fairmont and one in Blue Earth.

“Initially I thought this was going to go over like a lead balloon,” says Langer. “This hasn’t generated the amount of complaints I thought it would.”

Doug Nave, owner of Double Play in Blue Earth, says his business hasn’t had any problems with customers lighting up.

“Only once or twice we had someone light up and go ‘Oops.’ That was when the law first went in,” Nave says.

The incidents in Martin County occurred about two months ago, Langer says, and were handled with a phone call.

“In 99.9 percent of the cases, talking to the business operator takes care of the problem,” Langer says. “I’ve been able to address complaints at this point.”

If a second complaint is received, a formal letter likely will be sent to the owner or manager.

Langer says if a business has a third complaint, law enforcement may issue violators — smokers and proprietors — a citation that carries a fine of up to $300. The state health department also can add penalties of up to $10,000. Langer says he doesn’t go out looking for violations. Instead, he relies on tips from the public.

That was the case in Blue Earth where he investigated rumors during a scheduled inspection.

“When I found cigarette butts on the floor it was pretty obvious what was going on,” he says.

Not complying with clean-air laws, says Langer, are considered “critical violations” and must be dealt with instantly.

“An immediate order is issued to correct the problem,” he adds.

Statewide, the most severe penalty so far has been a $1,000 fine issued to a real estate office in Eden Prairie.