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News: What’s Up with North Dakota?

19 Nov 2012



I was stunned when I learned about North Dakota voting for an extremely restrictive smoking ban. I lived for a couple of years in the Great Plains, and it isn’t the area I think would take such action. In fact, an oft-repeated joke was, “People say Midwesterners don’t question things. But that’s not true. They question everything. The question they ask is, ‘Why would we want to do that?’”

If you’re not familiar with North Dakota, here are a few random facts from my research to provide a little prospective. The population is under 700,000, putting it above only Vermont and Wyoming. Republicans have a near-lock on statewide political offices. It has the lowest state unemployment rate (3%), ranks 24th in percentage of cigarette smokers, is home to three of the nation’s 100 poorest counties, and ranks 41st in per capita income. Among its attractions are Salem Sue, the world’s largest cow (six tons of fiberglass); the geographic center of North America in Rugby; the Roger Maris Baseball Museum; and numerous wildlife refuges and parks.

Other November referendums were to repeal a poll tax on the books for more than 100 years (approved) and to strengthen what have been described as extraordinarily lax animal cruelty laws (defeated).

“I thought we would be one of the last places this would happen,” said Todd Pryor in Minot, North Dakota, home to a noted Air Force base. “You know, cowboys…” For Pryor, with whom I spoke by phone, this isn’t a philosophical discussion. It’s business, pure and simple. Or, perhaps more accurately, lack of business.

Pryor is the owner of the Great Plains Smoke Shop in Minot, one of the few traditional tobacco shops in the state. His shop is also coupled with a cigar bar, where smoking had been permitted. Under the new law, that’s forbidden. And Pryor can’t simply open a smoking lounge in the shop portion because the law bans that, too.

Before the election, Pryor said, there was little, if any, opposition activity from tobacco companies, smoking rights groups, or even electronic cigarette organizations, whose non-tobacco devices fall under the law as well. The only news coverage I could find on the potential impact focused exclusively on cigarette smoking, and a reporter who covered the issue in Fargo, North Dakota’s largest city, told me she hadn’t written about cigars.

When the law goes into effect, probably next month, Pryor’s only smoking option will be to set up a patio area at least 20 feet from the shop’s door, with just a roof or fence allowed as structures. Even with heaters and thermal underwear, outdoor smoking in Minot—where the average high doesn’t even hit 60 degrees seven months of the year and rests below freezing in December, January, and February—is at best a sometimes thing.

Pryor said he doesn’t know yet what the impact of the ban will be on his seven-year-old shop. He’s not sure he’ll be able to keep the bar going. And how do his customers feel about all this? “They’re pissed as hell,” Pryor said.

-George E

photo credit: Flickr

Drew Estate

5 Responses to “News: What’s Up with North Dakota?”

  1. Mike Monday, November 19, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    I'm not suprised. No statewide smoking ban on the ballot in the last 10 years has failed — no matter how restrictive it is. Most Republicans don't smoke either, and many small-government libertarians are happy to make an exception to their beliefs if it means they can avoid smoke at their favorite restaurant or bar.

    Anti-smoking advocates no longer see any reason to put any accomidations in any smoking ban. No matter how strict, it will probably be approved.

    George, do you think if it was on the ballot today that Florida's ban would exempt stand-alone bars, hotel rooms, VFWs, patios, etc.? I don't. They would have removed state pre-emption of smoking laws as well.

    I'm not even sure it would have exempted cigar shops if passed today, although maybe it would.

  2. mighty Monday, November 19, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    People are just too focused on themselves for the most part today. We have all heard someone say, "I don't like cigars (or pipes) so why should I care?" You almost never hear the saying, "how will this tax effect our grandchildren" anymore either. People just want what they can take for themselves in the here and now, regardless of what it might mean in the future. Obviously these are generalizations, but I feel pretty accurate to a large majority.

    This kind of thinking leads to the familiar story that ends with, "when they came for me, there was no one left to care…."

  3. smartin Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    Excuse me! We are fighting back all over the country! Just two weeks ago the tobacco tax increase was voted down in Missouri. In the next Kansas llegislative session, we will be resubmitting the Bill to exempt adult only businesses from the ban, which, by the way, failed to pass here the first time it was presented.

    When the stogie guys get off their asses, and join forces with the bars and casinos, we are going to drive these fanatics back to New Jersey (Johnson and Johnson nicotine replacement products seller) from whence the paid NRT nannies launched this crap!

    Find your local fighters. We are easy to locate. Get on board and get these pharma funded, grant mooching, lying dogs, out of our tobacco shops, our bars, our adult restaurants, and our Constitutional right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    Man! I thought cigar guys were fighters!

    • Mike Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 11:02 am #

      And how many statewide smoking bans have you gotten repealed?

      Good for you, and good luck in your fight. But Missouri's tax increase is not the same as a smoking ban, and Missouri has been long been reluctant to OK any tax hike.

      No state, except Nevada (and they often do their own thing), has rolled back a smoking ban to any measurable degree. Most bar owners associations have trouble getting a hearing on bills to relax a smoking ban, let alone get one approved.

      I love cigars, but smoking them is not a constitutional right, nor is it comparable to the Holocaust, as some like to do with that paraphrase,

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