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New smoking survey released

Highlights from a survey on secondhand smoke by the North Dakota State Data Center were presented this past Tuesday morning at the Otter Tail County Government Services Center in Fergus Falls. The study was done by Dr. Richard Rathge of NDSU and ...

Highlights from a survey on secondhand smoke by the North Dakota State Data Center were presented this past Tuesday morning at the Otter Tail County Government Services Center in Fergus Falls. The study was done by Dr. Richard Rathge of NDSU and was done to assess registered voters' attitudes toward secondhand smoke and to determine their opinions of public policy relating to secondhand smoke.

The survey, conducted earlier this month, polled 350 randomly selected registered voters from households in Otter Tail County with an error rate of plus or minus 5%. It found that the majority of local voters believe people should be protected from secondhand smoke. The survey also negates the common belief among business owners that smoking bans will harmfully affect their businesses.

"There are a lot of misconceptions regarding how people will react to smoke-free policies. This study suggests that few people are likely to boycott business establishments, including bars and lounges, if these establishments were smoke-free. In fact, the data suggests that establishments may improve their client base by going smoke-free, especially if one recognizes that only 15 percent of the adult population in the county are regular smokers," said Rathge.

About one in two registered voters said they would be more likely to use alcohol-free restaurants if they were smoke-free, 39 percent would frequent alcohol serving restaurants more if they were smoke-free, 26 percent would visit cocktail lounges and bars more if they were smoke-free, and 53 percent indicated a greater participation at indoor amusement or recreational facilities in a smoke-free environment.

Ron Anderson, one of three coalition members for the county on the issue said the results were remarkable with the smokers polled.

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"Even on some of the tough questions, (smokers) agree with (the ordinance)," Anderson said.

The survey indicated that 87 percent of registered voters in the county feel that secondhand smoke is a health issue and that an ordinance should be passed to protect people's health.

"The survey shows that voters in this county are concerned about the consequences of secondhand smoke and they are willing to support policies that will help improve the health environment, especially for workers," said Dr. Richard Rathge, Director of the North Dakota State Data Center.

Among those most at risk are individuals employed in restaurant and bars without smoking bans. Anderson said that 1,256 people currently work in the restaurant business in Otter Tail County.

"These people are not protected by the clean air act," said Anderson.

The survey found strong support among registered voters for an ordinance protecting public health and safety. Fifty-three percent of those polled wanted smoking prohibited in all indoor workplaces, and 34 percent wanted a smoke free ordinance with exclusions. A key finding in the survey was that 85 percent of registered voters believe that air quality should be regulated the same way as safe and sanitary lodging, which should guide commissioners in their ordinance.

"This means that the vast majority of voters are saying that lawmakers should approach ordinances that ensure clean air no differently than ordinances that ensure clean hands or clean dishes in bars and restaurants," said Dr. Rathge.

A survey done in seven counties, including Otter Tail in February of 2005, had similar results. Anderson says the coalition members were surprised at the close results the previous survey and the Otter Tail survey provided.

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"When you look at the poll results, its remarkable we got the numbers we did," said Anderson.

Area counties are not alone in their concern over secondhand smoke and match several points outlined in the Surgeon General report issued this past Tuesday. Among the reports findings, Anderson points out that the report explicitly states that secondhand smoke is dangerous and that there is no evidence that shows bans on smoking negatively effect the hospitality industry.

Anderson and fellow coalition members, Robianne Schultz and Dr. Rand Stolee hope the new survey results will help speed up the process of putting an ordinance into effect in Otter Tail County. To enable an ordinance the County Commissioners will have to hold a public hearing, most likely to take place in August according to Anderson, followed by a public meeting and a Commissioners vote on the ordinance. Anderson believes a smoking ordinance might be in place by January 1, 2007.

Other key findings in the survey included:

--- 85 percent of voters agreed that people should be protected from secondhand smoke.

--- 86 percent of voters agree that restaurant employees should be protected from secondhand smoke.

--- 75 percent of voters agree that bar employees should have a smoke-free workplace.

--- 73 percent of voters place priority on customers being able to breathe clean, smoke-free air in bars and restaurants.

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--- The smoking status among registered voters is: 15 percent smoke cigarettes of use other tobacco products on a regular basis; 6 percent occasionally smoke cigarettes or tobacco products; 34 percent used to smoke cigarettes of use tobacco products, and 46 oercent have never smoked or used tobacco products.

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