Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

WARNING: Proposal would erode Minnesota’s Freedom to Breathe Act April 11, 2011

WARNING: Cigarettes are addictive.

WARNING: Tobacco smoke can harm your children.

WARNING: Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease.

WARNING: Cigarettes cause cancer.

WARNING: Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease.

WARNING: Smoking during pregnancy can harm your baby.

WARNING: Smoking can kill you.

WARNING: Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in nonsmokers.

WARNING: Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health.


I didn't need to search long or hard to find these cigarette butts. Two were tossed into one of my flowerbeds by a neighbor. I found the third in the street by my house.

Just as Minnesota legislators are considering proposed changes to the state’s Freedom to Breathe law, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is finalizing plans to modify warnings on cigarette packaging and advertising.

Following requirements of The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the FDA has proposed that cigarette packaging and ads bear one of the above nine warnings along with a matching colorful graphic.

The shock value of the proposed graphics—like a toe-tagged corpse and a mother blowing smoke into her baby’s face—are an effort to make a powerful impact on the smoking public. Enough to make a smoker stop smoking.

The final graphics will be selected by June 22 and the warnings must be in place on all cigarette packages sold in the U.S. and in cigarette ads by October 2012.

As a nonsmoker, I’m all for this move to prevent, reduce or stop smoking.

However, I don’t support proposed legislation in Minnesota that would once again allow smoking in bars under specific conditions. Not that I frequent bars, but bars and restaurants are often interconnected, so this matters to me.

The plan basically would allow smoking in bars if a ventilation system is installed to remove the smoke. In bars connected to restaurants, the bar must be walled off with a door separating the bar and restaurant.

Come on. A door will not keep smoke from filtering into a restaurant. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t need smoke served with my meal.

I make no apologies for my strong stand against smoking and my intense dislike of cigarette smoke.

I’m also honest enough to admit that, in my youth, I tried tobacco products on several occasions, enough to realize smoking wasn’t for me.

My dad became addicted to cigarettes when he was in the military, serving on the front lines during the Korean Conflict. He preferred Camel cigarettes. Sometimes he also rolled his own.

My dad, a smoker for many years, first exposed me to cigarettes. Once he even let me puff on his Camel. Now before you start calling him an irresponsible parent, consider this.  He knew I’d cough and sputter and spit and never want to touch a cigarette again. He was right. Eventually he gave up smoking but never quit chewing snuff.

Although I never took up smoking, I was addicted to candy cigarettes as a kid. But candy cigarettes were as popular as Bazooka bubble gum back in the 1960s and no one thought anything of subtly encouraging kids to smoke via those chalky white sticks with the red tips.

As for the few Swisher cigars I smoked in my mid-20s, I offer no excuse except my ignorant, youthful stupidity. I bet many smokers who are now habitual tobacco users wish they’d never started.

If you’re a smoker and want to smoke in the privacy of your home, then go ahead. Just don’t invite me over because, physically, I can’t tolerate cigarette smoke.  I’ve had numerous bad experiences with cigarette smoke.

Back in the early 1980s, I worked for a southern Minnesota daily newspaper that allowed smoking in the office. I came home every night smelling like I’d been in a bar all day. My clothes reeked. My skin reeked. My hair reeked. I remember complaining, with several other nonsmokers in the office, about the smoking. Nothing changed, because the news editor smoked. She didn’t care. So what if the copy editor sat outside the conference room during the weekly staff meeting because he couldn’t tolerate the smoke? I wish I had joined him instead of breathing the toxic air. So what if the news editor should have been more considerate given the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act passed in 1975? None of that mattered.

My second worst experience with smoking occurred several years ago at a Winona hotel. The manager tried to pass off a smoking room as a nonsmoking room. The instant I walked into the room, I smelled cigarette smoke. The mobile air purifier that was running on high and the lack of a sign on the door stating that this was a nonsmoking room confirmed my suspicions. When I went to the front desk and demanded a nonsmoking room, the manager denied that he had given me a smoking room. I didn’t believe him. My nose and lungs don’t lie.

My other notable smoke experience also involves a hotel, this one at a southwestern Minnesota casino. I was there attending a cousin’s wedding reception. Although the hotel room my family booked was supposedly smoke-free, the odor of cigarette smoke filtered from the smoke-filled hotel lobby, halls and casino into our room. I barely slept that night because of the tightness in my chest caused by the smoke.

So, Minnesota legislators, listen up. Listen to representatives of The American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and Clearway Minnesota, all of whom have been at the State Capitol opposing the proposed changes to Minnesota’s Freedom to Breathe Act.

Consider the 83.9 percent of adult Minnesotans (according to results of the 2010 Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey) who do not smoke. Please keep our Freedom to Breathe Act intact and smoke-free.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


10 Responses to “WARNING: Proposal would erode Minnesota’s Freedom to Breathe Act”

  1. Mark Ritchie Says:

    Thank you for speaking up on this! Amen!

  2. Amy Says:

    My mother smoked all the years I was growing up; she smoked during her pregnancy, and I’ve often wondered if that’s why I ended up with asthma and allergies, conditions that didn’t exist in previous generations on either side of my family. My mother does deeply regret it; she started smoking at 16, long before the consequences were known. She quit smoking about 25 years ago, but 10 years ago was diagnosed with COPD and now has to have oxygen with her at all times.

    On the plus side, I’m pretty sure my kids will never smoke, between me harping at them about it and my mother waving her oxygen tank at them and saying, “See what happens when you smoke? You end up like this.”

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’m pretty certain your kids will get the message.

      I too wonder how all the years of smoke exposure during my childhood and then the time in a smoke-filled work environment have affected my health.

  3. Bernie Says:

    I debated about not commenting on this. I am a smoker. I can understand the health effects of smoking. I can also understand how the smell would be unpleasant. I get all that. Yet, I still smoke.
    The Non-Smoking groups have hemorrhaged money into states to get people to pass non-smoking laws. Minnesota won’t go back to allowing smoking in bars. They won’t go backwards. It may be up for a vote, but it won’t pass.
    I do think that when the law passed, it hurt many smaller bars and restaurants. When it passed it Duluth, Superior WI had not passed that law yet. So everyone would go over to Superior to have a dinner in order to be able to smoke. That hurt many business’ who lost revenue. I’m sure now that WI has passed the same law, things have even out more.
    It won’t pass.
    I can understand all the reasoning why smokers should be shipped off onto our own island. Other than our homes, for me its my garage, we can’t smoke. I will go outside and have a cigarette during the day from work. I don’t blow it on people. I keep my cigarette behind me as people pass. However, I can’t stand it when someone is 5 feet away from me, and then glare at me and do a fake cough. It makes me want to chase them down the sidewalk and puff smoke on them. Outside is one of the last places we can smoke. So it would be nice if people would allow us to have that.
    I’m all done. *lol* I like your blog but didn’t want to just agree because that is your view.I think that is what makes the world go around. A little bit of difference of opinions.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Hey, Bernie, I appreciate that you expressed your opinion. We choose to disagree and that’s fine.

      I like that you are so respectful to those of us who don’t smoke. Not every smoker is that way. While I’ve never glared at a smoker, I once asked a smoking shopper, who was puffing away at a garage sale at my house, to either extinguish her cigarette or leave. The woman got mad and left. But I felt the need to stand my ground because this was my property and I was hosting a fundraising garage sale for a high school group.

      As for bars and restaurants losing money because of the smoking ban in Minnesota, I’ve read mixed reviews on that. Some owners feel it actually benefited these establishments by bringing in more of the nonsmoking public. I can see where businesses in a border town like Duluth may have seen decreases in business due to the Freedom to Breathe Act. But as you pointed out, the playing field has been leveled now with the smoking changes in Wisconsin.

  4. Virgil Says:

    Yea Audrey, right on. I agree, leave the laws as they are. I started smoking in the service. Cigarettes were cheap, a dollar a carton. I think the tobacco companies had a good thing going. Give the G I’s cheap cigarettes and make the tobacco companies look good but at the same time get the G I’s addicted. I quit several years later as my wife came home from work as a nurse and described various lip, lung, throat, etc. surguries they performed daily at Methodist Hospital on smokers. I have a sister with COPD, on oxygen and still smoking. The statistics are overwhelming about the adverse effects.That’s how hard it is to quit. I suspect most smokers deep inside want to quit. I use to tell friends who were smokers that they should chew instead then at least I could step over their spitting but when they smoke it is hard to avoid breathing the smoke.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You made some excellent points, Virgil. I’m sure, like any addiction, it is difficult to quit smoking. Good for you to stop. Years ago smoking was such an accepted norm and no one really thought about the health consequences. Thankfully that has changed. I just don’t want the Minnesota legislature to step backwards and allow situations that would increase exposure to second-hand smoke.

  5. V.E.G. Says:

    People, give up your cigarettes! Funerals are expensive!

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