Showdown At The Grand Forks Corral!

Courtesy of the Grand Forks Herald



Introduction by Michael
Sad as it is to say, it seems that most newspapers in America are not nearly as dedicated to equally airing all sides on controversial issues. An unfortunate number of major newspapers have felt it important to take an editorial position of "public responsibility" and lend the use of their papers to the Crusade against smoking and smokers with only occasional dollops of "fairness" thrown in, and with those dollops almost religiously followed by an onslaught of harsh criticism without a forum for response.

There are exceptions to this rule, and one such exception is the Grand Forks Herald of Grand Forks, North Dakota. North Dakota in 2004 is a battlefield for the war between Antismokers and Smokers. Ordinary nonsmokers, as usual, are simply caught in the middle as both sides seek to give them the "truth."

What makes Grand Forks different is that in this particular case the money and influence of the Antismoking Crusade has been balanced by a newspaper that has given the Free-Choice movement an equal voice. It will be interesting to see how the citizens of Grand Forks react to such a phenomenon, but as anyone who's read any of the other material on my web pages can guess, I strongly believe that such equal presentation of information will lead to a citizenry strongly opposed to universal, government-mandated bans.

With that serving as an introduction, I have received permission from the editors at the Grand Forks Herald to reproduce the letters to the editor below. The first is an open letter by a bar owner named Sue Jeffers that was sent to several outlets. The Grand Forks Herald gave it a very prominent display.

Sue's letter was followed up by three Antismoking efforts, one was a letter by Robert Moffitt , the communications manager of the Minnesota Lung Association, one a letter co-authored by Dale Knotek, a member of the Wellness Coalition and Brenda Menier, a director of Public Health, and one was a full length article by Debbie Swanson, a nursing supervisor with the Public Health Department. Unfortunately, I do not yet have permission to reproduce their writings yet, but if they DO give such permission to me I will include them in the proper order below.

The last three pieces are letters in support of Sue's article and/or criticizing points made by Nurse Swanson and Mr. Moffitt. The people of Grand Forks, courtesy of the Herald, have been given a fuller view of this issue than the vast majority of citizens affected by bans or potential bans: The Herald deserves to be proud of itself… now if we could only get the New York Times to show asimilar level of responsibility. ::sigh::

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Open Letter From Sue Jeffers

To Whom It May Concern: I am part of a dying breed, an independent bar and restaurant owner and I have been trying to fight the smoking ban in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington over the last 6 weeks. As Hennepin and Ramsey Counties get ready to hold public hearings to force our counties to go smoke free let me tell you about the people involved.

They are the business owners, fighting for their livelihood, armed with well-documented studies, negative revenue statistics and available technology options begging for common sense. These people will be ignored. A smoking ban will plague family-run bars and restaurants throughout the Metro Area. All will lose money. In the first year, I will lose $250,000. After that, who knows, some will survive, but many neighborhood establishments will fold and others will sell out. Soon, Minneapolis will be inundated (more than it already is) with chain restaurants and sports bars.

The elected officials will sit and pretend they care about what is being said and are listening to the business owners with an open mind. As a Minneapolis small business owner, however, it is clear that they are not. Council members have not helped. In fact, a few have attacked on me personally.

Because I value each and every one of my customers, smoker or not, I used some common sense and researched the facts, asked questions and then called them liars. They will try to shut me up, not an easy task. Some council members refuse meetings or to return phone calls, some call me an idiot, some just ignore me or tell me they don't have any time to spend on the issue.

One will send me nasty e-mails telling me I "have been smelling too much French fry grease and they will ignore my bizarre and addled ideas" (Thune, St. Paul). One will refuse to look at any data I present and tell me "it isn't worth the paper it's printed on and my cheeseburgers will be next" (Zerby, Minneapolis). One will tell me "we looked at every study done on second hand smoke before they made their decision", all 130 of them, I doubt that. (Harden, Bloomington).

I have found that people at these public hearings can be divided into 3 groups: the smokers, the nonsmokers and the smoke-haters. The smoker and the nonsmoker categories are self-explanatory. The third group: the smoke-haters, for many wrong reasons, believe there is no greater evil than Big Tobacco. The smoke haters are taxpayer-funded activist organizations, using exaggerated risks, fear and lies, together with billions of dollars are successfully railroading city councils, counties and states to pass smoking bans.

These organizations, with the help of local governments, don't have to tell the truth, they just have to say it is a health issue. They can not provide one death certificate stating second hand smoke killed someone. They won't provide any names of the people that died from second hand smoke because if the smoke-haters had even one name it would be plastered everywhere.

At the hearings you will hear hour after hour that smoking bans are being passed everywhere. They do not tell you 36 of 41 proposed smoking bans in Minnesota failed before Bloomington and Minneapolis caved to these special interest groups lies and voted in favor of a ban. The smoke haters won't tell you many cities; counties and states overturned a smoking ban legally, legislatively and by popular vote. They won't tell you that they made a mistake earlier when they told you that orange juice, salt, beef, microwaves, and cell phones will also cause cancer. You won't hear second hand smoke is not a class A carcinogen. You will not hear the cause of cancer is unknown or they located the region of genes that sharply increases the risk of developing lung cancer, not an environmental element, but a biological connection for the cause of lung cancer.

You won't hear air can be safe even with smoke in it. Technology is not even an option in their quest to eliminate the evil weed. At every public hearing will be paid "medical experts" wearing white lab coats and carrying "patient" files spouting biased, exaggerated and speculative linkages to second hand smoke. Their unchallenged figures will be accepted as fact. No one will tell you these studies have been successfully challenged in court and proved biased. No one will include factors like genetics, weight, cholesterol, high blood pressure, age or even if the patient was a smoker in their effort to pass a smoking ban. The smoke-haters will not tell you a federal judge told the EPA their findings were "outright fraud". No one will tell you the figure of 3000 lives lost from second hand smoke is computer generated.

Advocates of the ban will cry that cigarette smoking is unhealthy and therefore our nanny-state must regulate everyone for our own good. They will repeatedly call my business public property. By restricting rights on privately owned property, even with good intentions, we have an arbitrary code of behavior being enforced on our citizens.

Bans are a bad idea. Bans do not make people healthier. Bans do not make people quit. Bans cost cities and counties jobs, revenues and businesses. Bans didn't work in the early 1900's and they won't work now.

I was in over my head when I took on this battle. I underestimated the smoke-haters, their money and the media. I overestimated bar owners, smokers, and common sense. I truly believed elected officials would listen to the little guy. I believed they actually represented the citizens and the businesses in their city. I did not realize no one was willing to look at the facts.

So, I will now go back to running my bar. I will have to work longer and harder. I will not hire as many people as I try to gauge the extent of this ban. I will try to keep my staff and customers safe enforcing yet another regulation. I will sweep up the cigarette butts on the sidewalks and apologize to my neighbor's for the increased noise, litter and vandalism. I will likely terminate the lease of my neighbor so I can tear down the building and provide a safe place for my staff and customers to smoke.

I am a business owner; I don't want to blow smoke in your face, in your homes or even in your business. I want to run my business. Please don't force your regulations on me. What is more important jobs and revenues or an exaggerated health risk?

While smoke-haters rejoice the new ban, my booths will sit empty and family-run bars and restaurants will slowly, but surely, fade away from the Minneapolis landscape. I will grow old waiting for all those nonsmokers to come pouring through my door.

Sue Jeffers
Stub and Herb's
227 S.E. Oak St.
Minneapolis MN

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September 2nd Letter from Archie Anderson:

MAILBAG: Taxpayer money in Minnesota flows to 'ban smoking' groups

COON RAPIDS, Minn. - The vitriolic and sneering attack on Sue Jeffery, "the embittered bar owner," by Bob Moffitt, the spokesman for the American Lung Association of Minnesota, needs to be rebutted.

Moffitt suggests Jeffers is not one to take advice from because she is only a "bar owner." The distortions and mistruths coming from the health department and surgeon general's offices over the past decade would cause a person to take the word of this highly educated, job-creating young woman over the junk science coming from Moffitt and his publicly funded organization.

Moffitt also claimed that "the American Lung Association of Minnesota has not received or spent one dime of 'taxpayers dollars' to support grassroots efforts to restrict tobacco in the Twin Cities Area THIS YEAR." (Emphasis added.)

For those of you in Grand Forks who have what Moffitt assumes to be the intelligence of "bar owners," I want you to know that the Minnesota Legislature authorized the spending of $3.4 million in taxpayer money for tobacco-prevention programs in 2004, along with $3.28 million in 2005 and $3.34 million in 2006. However, the 2004 money was spent at the beginning of the 2004 fiscal year - in other words, the fall of 2003. So, it's only "spinmeistering" that lets Moffitt say that taxpayer money hasn't been spent this year.

Beyond that, let me simply quote the lead of a news story headlined "State money fuels campaigns to ban smoking," which ran in the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper May 12:

"Behind the scenes of the twin proposals to ban smoking in bars and restaurants in Minneapolis and St. Paul is a little-noticed new state grant program that is funneling millions of taxpayer dollars into lobbying and other efforts to enact such measures."

I don't think most non-smokers or any citizen who has taken high school civics would approve of this open disrespect for the public's money or the deliberate circumvention of the representative process.

There is not enough memory in my computer to write the rest of this story. But it remains in public records waiting for citizens to take issue with the mendacious behavior of self-appointed nannies and their elected mentors.

Archie Anderson

Anderson is president of FORCES Minnesota,

FORCES is an international smokers' rights organization.

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September 8th Letter from Michael J. McFadden:

Mailbag: Think smoking bans help? Think again

PHILADELPHIA - In the Herald's Sept. 5 "Prairie Voices" feature, workplace smoking ban advocate Debbie Swanson claimed that "sales are up in New York a year after its statewide ban" . Anyone who believes that statement should take a minute and visit this Web page. It's a visit that will change minds:

You won't find any fancy statistics or claims by zealots who live 1,000 miles from New York City. But you will find a personal listing of roughly 150 bars and restaurants in New York (and hundreds more elsewhere) whose owners are brave enough to go on record by name and establishment in telling their tales of just how badly their businesses have been hurt by smoking bans.

The antismoking lobby is desperate to pretend that everyone is happy with smoking bans. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently claimed that smokers "wave the cigarette at you in a good-natured way" when he goes by the bars he's driven them out of. The mayor evidently wasn't looking closely enough at the smokers' hands. Those weren't cigarettes being waved at him.

The Herald gave a showed good form in printing Sue Jeffers' open letter . However, given the seriousness of the situation faced by businesses faced with bans, I feel that their voice deserves more space and I hope to see more input from them.

While I may not live in Grand Forks, what happens in North Dakota gets used by the lobbyists in Philadelphia as well when they push for bans.

Michael J. McFadden
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

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September 9th Letter from Amy McCloskey:

VIEWPOINT: N.Y.'s ban made my bar's profits go up in smoke

By Amy McCloskey

NEW YORK - The Prairie Voices interview, "Smoke-free at work," had Grand Forks nursing supervisor Debbie Swanson claiming that "sales are up in New York a year after its statewide.

I'm not sure which sales Swanson is referring to, but if she's talking about bar sales, her response was laughably inaccurate. Or it would be laughable if it weren't so painfully untrue.

I own a bar in Manhattan. I've lost nearly half my business to New York's smoking ban. The economy, the blackout, the tragedy of Sept. 11 (which was mere blocks away from my bar), none of these things kept us down for long. We're a popular place. We've been around for seven years (which is ancient in this fickle business). I had every intention of being around for at least seven more.

Now, I and my managers have not been paid for three months. We've gone without so that we could pay the bills. I've had to let go a third of my staff. And there's no explanation other than the smoking ban.

Local residents used to consider us a good neighbor. Now, they're screaming to have us shut down due to the noise of the smokers on the street. That's true even though in other ways, the streets are less crowded than ever: This neighborhood, Greenwich Village, used to be a magnet for foreign tourists, tri-staters and people from all of New York City's five boroughs. Now, even the residents are noticing that there is, comparatively, no one around.

The streets are practically empty early and late, and all the businesses in our neighborhood are suffering. Ask them. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg hasn't. Not only that, but when I called the Department of Health to find out how to apply for a hardship waiver, I was told that the criteria had yet to be worked out. They'd get back to me when it was. They got back to me, all right. Three days later, the Health Department showed up at 9:30 p.m. on a Friday and inspected us for an hour and a half. Coincidence? Please.

I used to get 15 to 20 calls on the weekend from out-of-towners looking for driving directions. Now, I get none. I used to walk through my bar on an average night and hear three or four different languages. Not any more.

Why? For one thing, the foreign tourists who came to New York City to party now are going elsewhere. A friend in the travel industry told me she lost a $100,000 tour from Germany when the smoking ban went into effect, as they refused to go someplace where they couldn't smoke.

For another, the people from the boroughs are staying local, as the smoking police don't pay nearly as much attention to the outer boroughs. And New Jersey is reaping huge profits and is not about to change its smoking law.

I'm a bar/lounge. I sell a great atmosphere, reasonably priced drinks and a welcoming environment. I don't have TV. I don't have live music. I don't have food. And now, I don't have customers.

Bloomberg seems to have declared jihad on fun in New York. He seems to be attempting to make this gritty, edgy "city that never sleeps" into a bedroom community for the wealthy.

Overall, perhaps, sales may be up in New York. Think of how much greater those numbers would be if bar losses weren't dragging the total down.

Amy McCloskey owns Madame X, a bar/lounge on Houston Street in New York City.

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And On Into The Future....

The four voices above, and the information they imparted, will be sure to have a significant effect on the future of smoking bans in Grand Forks, Minneapolis, and elsewhere.

We have already seen the impact that activists, bar/restaurant owners, and the spread of knowledge in the form of books, letters, and information packets can have in these fights.

Letters to Editors may seem like little things, but they're not: they are one of the few venues available to unfunded Free-Choice activists fighting the big money advertising and lobbying expertise of the Antismokers. Combine them with distributing or selling copies of Free-Choice books and packets and standing up and speaking at Town Halls and City Council hearings and the "will of the people" can yet be heard.

Copyright 2004, Michael J. McFadden


The United Pro Choice Smokers Rights Newsletter