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Smokers beware: another new law

Come Friday, if you light up and stink up a non-smoking room in a hotel or motel it could cost you a lot more than the price of a pack of cigarettes or a cigar. Read more …
By Robert Whereatt

Come Friday, if you light up and stink up a non-smoking room in a hotel or motel it could cost you a lot more than the price of a pack of cigarettes or a cigar.

A new state law  kicks in that allows an innkeeper to charge you the actual costs of eliminating the smoke odor.

Under the old law, there was a $100 cap on the cost of de-stinking a room. That just doesn’t cover cleaning costs, according to Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, chief Senate sponsor of the 2008 law. “The actual cost of cleaning up in a room after someone has smoked is on average $250,” he said.

This is not part of the contentious 2007 Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act amendment which set off protests when legislators forced bar smokers into the cold night air. Smoking is still legal in hotel and motel rooms designated by innkeepers for smokers. “I don’t know if it’s a huge problem, but it occurs,” said Dibble, who says he’s “a non-judgmental former smoker.”

The legislation was proposed by Hospitality Minnesota. Robert Vanasek, a former speaker of the Minnesota House, is the trade group’s lobbyist. Cleaning up a non-smoking room after a one-night smoke is more than loose change for innkeepers, he said. It often entails dry cleaning drapes, shampooing carpets, bedding, even mattresses.

Worst-case scenario
“It costs a lot to get the room back in shape so a non-smoker will take it without complaining,” the real test, said Vanasek.

So how much could it cost? Well, say you throw a poker party in a non-smoking room and the guys and gals start puffing on stogies, maybe even burning the carpet. “That’s when you could have a worst-case scenario,” said Vanasek. That’s when costs could far exceed $250.

If you don’t pay up, the innkeeper can take you to court, get a civil judgment for the cleaning tab, plus service charges, a penalty of $100 and attorney fees up to $500.
 
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, was the chief author of the House bill this year. She is also sponsor of the original Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act of 1975. When that first passed, Kahn recalled this week, people were ecstatic just to have a dining area divided into smoking and non-smoking. Now non-smokers are more sensitive to the odor and demand stronger borders. They can tell if a motel room has been used by smokers, said Kahn.

“The people that [asked for this year’s legislation] were not the usual suspects, the usual people that work on non-smoking issues, like all the health groups. This came from the hotel industry and the tourism industry,” said Kahn.

So if you’ve got a darn good cigar and want to light up, take it outside the motel’s non-smoking room. Just don’t take it into a bar.