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Sign will send message to two states

A billboard that states boldly that "the air is cleaner" in Minnesota was unveiled near the Minnesota/Wisconsin border Wednesday, April 2. The message has the blessing of officials in both St. Croix County and Washington County (Minnesota).

The billboard's message is in reference to Minnesota's Freedom to Breathe Act, which was approved last year by the Minnesota Legislature and signed into law by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The law has been in effect since Oct 1, 2007.

"As the billboard says, thanks to our new smoke-free law the air is cleaner in Minnesota...and our state's families are the better for it," said Cynthia Piette, project coordinator for Smoke-Free Washington County, which sponsored the billboard.

The billboard has a simulated satellite image of the upper Midwest that shows Minnesota surrounded by smoke. The billboard's text says, "With our new smoke-free law, the air is cleaner here."

On the Wisconsin side, Geralyn Karl, St. Croix County health educator said, "This is true -- the air is cleaner in Minnesota and all residents have equal protection -- something we deserve here in Wisconsin, as well."

Piette said the sign also acts as a welcome sign.

"If you are not from Minnesota but you too are concerned about what secondhand smoke exposure will do to your health and your families, you are welcome here any time," said Piette.

"And that is exactly what neighboring Wisconsin residents are doing -- crossing the river for a 'breath of fresh air,'" says Karl. "I hear from many community members who enjoy dinner, bowling and entertainment in the smoke-free environments of Minnesota's businesses."

Piette said polls show that more than 75 percent of Minnesota's residents support the right to breathe clean healthy air, with 44 percent supporting it strongly.

Billboards are also planned on the Minnesota/South Dakota border and on the Minnesota/North Dakota border.