Concerns about greater police involvement in low-level offenses helped dissuade the St. Louis Park City Council from banning smoking on the patios of restaurants and bars.

While the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act prohibits indoor smoking in such businesses, it does not ban outdoor smoking, regardless of distance from doors, windows or outdoor seating, a city staff report notes.

“Currently, few cities in Minnesota have adopted smoking restriction ordinances around outdoor seating in service establishments,” the report says. “Instead, restaurants have largely addressed the issue through their business models.”

Indeed, most food and beverage businesses city staff reviewed already ban or restrict smoking in outdoor seating areas, the report found.

It also says, “St. Louis Park has limited enforcement authority over the food and beverage businesses, especially those without a liquor license. Additionally, complaints about individuals smoking would result in police response and potential ticket against the individual, not the business.”

Staff predicted an ordinance to further restrict smoking would have a minimal impact and suggested that staff provide more education on the impacts of secondhand smoking instead.

Golden Valley and some cities farther from the metropolitan core have banned smoking outdoors at restaurants and bars. Bloomington and Ramsey County are among government entities partially restricting smoking outdoors at such businesses.

A server in one St. Louis Park restaurant made a complaint about patio smoking, according to Director of Building and Energy Brian Hoffman. He indicated he is unaware of any other complaints about the issue in recent years.

Michael Pivec, property maintenance and licensing manager, said many of the government bodies that have restricted smoking on patios are not actually enforcing the policies. Even without a city ordinance in St. Louis Park, he said all but one of 15 establishments he contacted either limited or banned smoking in outdoor seating areas.

Councilmember Lynette Dumalag, who raised the issue along with Councilmember Larry Kraft, noted that she brought up the idea due to the server request. Dumalag expressed surprise that many St. Louis Park restaurants already restrict smoking outside.

If the city did approve its own ordinance, Hoffman said city staff could become involved in ensuring signs are posted. But in a scenario in which patrons complained about the use of tobacco products on a Friday night, “If the business doesn’t enforce it or choose to respond, that basically leaves police being the only method to call and respond,” said Hoffman, who called such a situation impractical.

Because Hennepin County licenses food establishments in the city, Kraft mused that the county might better be able to enforce such a rule. He said he believes smoking in a public place does harm other individuals nearby, prompting him to generally support public smoking restrictions.

“I am in favor of smoking not being allowed in our parks and outdoor patios and restaurants,” Kraft said. “However, it doesn’t appear that we have the right levers to enforce that in a proper way.”

Several council members favored an approach involving education rather than a city restriction.

“I don’t want to put our police department on duty to go and monitor these situations and respond to them because I think it should be incumbent upon the owners of the facilities to do it,” Councilmember Tim Brausen said. “I’m in favor of the education around that.”

Dumalag said she realize employees may be limited in where they work, but she agreed after discussion that the county would be a better source of a new restriction and that the city should use education instead.

Rog said smoke-free rules for all restaurants would be optimal, but she said, “With limited bandwidth, I don’t want us to put more time into that right now. ... We’ll find other ways to do it.”

Hoffman said he appreciated the comment.

“Obviously, there has to be priorities where staff spends time,” he said.

Kraft said he still would like the St. Louis Park Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission to consider a ban on smoking in the city’s parks.

Mayor Jake Spano did not attend but said in an email that he favored having staff discuss the issue informally with specific locations that arise as concerns. But he said sending the police to enforce such an ordinance would contradict with council goals to rethink how police are used in the city in regard to minor issues.

Hoffman said city staff would plan to work with Hennepin County to provide information to businesses.

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