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W.F. complete smoking ban approved, effective July 1

WEST FARGO - West Fargo city commissioners decided unanimously Monday to enact a complete smoking ban in all public indoor workplaces, including bars, starting at 8 a.m. July 1.

The commission approved the ban by a 4-0 vote after less than five minutes of discussion, ending a five-year wait for ban supporters including City Commissioner Brenda Warren, who pushed for the ban last year.

The stricter ban will prohibit smoking in bars, public places rented to private parties and all areas in truck stops. Those places are exempt under the current smoking ban.

Monday's meeting was also a bittersweet moment for Warren because it was the last one for her as a commissioner. Warren, a two-term commissioner, was not re-elected by city voters during the June 10 election in which the ban was approved.

Warren said she received several phone calls election night about her not being re-elected, yet the smoking ban passing with 57 percent approval. "I said 'Well, I lost the battle, but I won the war, and that's what I'm really proud of.' "

Several residents who supported the smoking ban cheered, applauded and waved handmade signs in response to Monday's commission decision. The signs read "July 1, the air clears" and "Move forward July 1 with Fargo" - referring to a similar ban passed by Fargo voters on June 10. The Fargo ban will also take effect July 1.

Ban supporter June Herman, senior director of advocacy for the American Heart Association in Jamestown, N.D. said Monday's decision could be used as a stepping stone in efforts to push a stricter statewide ban.

"We anticipate the legislators will bring forth another ban," she said after the vote. "This will definitely speed up the clock."

Before commissioners decided on the ban, Mayor Rich Mattern told the standing-room-only crowd that the meeting would only focus on the ban's second reading needed for approval. A first reading was approved April 7.

"We're not here to debate the merits or demerits of the smoking ordinance," he said. "What we're here to discuss is what to do with the advisory vote."

Monday's decision comes nearly one year after commissioners voted 3-2 to reject a first reading of the ban. Commissioners referred the ban to a public vote on July 30 after hearing more than three hours of public comment.

West Fargo resident Nancy Purdon spoke to the commission Monday and questioned the June 10 election results because her mother - a Fargo resident - voted at the West Acres mall precinct and was given a West Fargo ballot.

City Attorney Brian Neugebauer said he had no information on the issue and said that would be something the election judge would have to take up.

Smoking ban proponents touted the health hazards of secondhand smoke in encouraging the ban.

Opponents say the ban infringes on business owners' and smokers' rights.

Silver Dollar Bar owner Kurt Lepird said he would not go against the vote of the people but is bracing for potential business losses because his business allows smoking.

Opponents also worry the ban will hurt charitable gaming revenues from establishments that allow smoking.

"I never wanted to go against the vote of the people because that's democracy," Lepird said Monday. "I'm looking forward to new challenges and look forward to seeing new faces."