Expanded smoking ban shot down in Sherburne

Sherburne County Board has a split vote.
By Paul Rignell
County Board writer
Smoking prohibitions will remain as they are in Sherburne County parks, and at the Government Center in Elk River, as a request for more restrictions Sept. 10 did not get enough support from the board.
County health officials were seeking a ban on all tobacco use in the parks and at all accesses to the Government Center, where a new policy would have limited employees and any visitors to smoking in their parked cars or trucks. Smoking has been banned in the building and at most of its public entrances since 2007.
The effort for changes got its most support at this week’s meeting and at a prior board workshop from Commissioner Bruce Anderson, a retired county sheriff. He said that a positive vote would preserve the health of county employees and hold down their insurance costs which are covered by taxpayers. “It just makes good sense,” Anderson said Sept. 10. “For me, anyways, it’s a no-brainer.”
Health and Human Services Director Ken Ebel said that with a change in policy, his staff would coordinate and offer aid such as smoking cessation classes for employees in all departments. “We would do whatever we can to get people away from smoking,” he said.
Commissioner Rachel Leonard said she could support a move to remove tobacco use from the sight of any children who visit the Government Center.
“We need to lead by example,” Commissioner Anderson agreed, “and we always have here at the Government Center.”
Commissioner Felix Schmiesing asked if it was better for children to be contained in vehicles with adults who are smoking.
Commissioner Leonard noted the board could assume no protection for children from smoking off of county property. “(The parents) can smoke in their children’s bedroom if they want to,” she said.
After conferring with building facilities staff on the costs of cleaning and removing tobacco-based litter, Anderson shared their report that employees sometimes have been sent out of the building for up to two hours per day but cannot keep up with messes found in planters and among other landscaping.
Commissioner John Riebel asked if there were not enough canisters for extinguishing cigarettes near the select building entrances where workers have continued to smoke. Anderson replied the number of canisters is not an issue, adding that some smokers are “flicking (the butts) anywhere” while chewing tobacco users are even more indiscriminate, he said, on where they spit out their residue.
Building facilities staff said workers are finding plenty of cigarette butts in toilets and office trash cans as well, when there should be no smoking anywhere in the building.
Ebel said he had heard estimates that county cleaning costs related to tobacco use have totaled thousands of dollars each year.
“To me, this is ridiculous we’re spending that kind of money,” Commissioner Anderson said.
Commissioner Schmiesing suggested that when the workers are cleaning tobacco from patios or restrooms, they are often already in the normal course of their job. “I would hope that we would clean (those areas) even if there weren’t cigarette butts there,” Schmiesing said. “There are areas that need to be cleaned.”
Schmiesing and Riebel voted against a policy change to broaden restrictions on smoking, defeating a motion that Leonard and Anderson supported.
Commissioner Ewald Petersen left his colleagues tied at 2-2 by abstaining from the vote. He said that he supported efforts to reduce tobacco use, while being unconvinced these restrictions could be enforced. “I agree with much of it, but I think we have a few steps before we can put this in full effect,” he said.
In light of hearing from the county health staff that tighter restrictions are already in place in Hennepin, Ramsey and Anoka counties, Petersen added he would like to see more agreement from the state.