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Make it a law: no workplace smoking PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Friday, 06 March 2009 20:12

Workers need the protection of a state smoking ban; experience shows many restaurant and bar customers would appreciate it as well

After an Ozaukee Press editorial urged state legislators to enact a ban on smoking in workplaces, the owner of a local bar and restaurant that permitted unrestricted smoking angrily accused this newspaper of trying to put him out of business.

That wasn’t our intent, of course, nor, we are quite sure, would that be the result of a state smoking ban. The notion that drinking and dining establishments would lose business if smoking on their premises were prohibited is probably as much a myth as the claim that secondhand smoke is not harmful.

When a Port Washington restaurateur recently declared his restaurant and cocktail lounge smoke free, clearing the air of cigarette smoke for the first time in the long history of the establishment, business didn’t decline—it increased markedly.

And why wouldn’t it? People who don’t smoke—that’s most people, a large majority of the population—don’t want to inhale other people’s smoke at any time and certainly not when they’re out having dinner or drinks.

The restaurant that banned smoking did a favor not only for its customers, but for its employees. Where smoking is allowed, restaurant and bar workers put their health at risk by merely coming to work.

Involuntary exposure of workers to a disease-causing environment should not be tolerated, which is why the smoking ban proposed by Gov. Jim Doyle would outlaw smoking in places of work. Sparing customers the dangerous effects of secondhand smoke would be a bonus.

Doyle included the smoking ban proposal in his state budget. That may seem odd, but it’s the way a lot of legislative work is done in Wisconsin. It’s an attempt in this case to insulate legislators from pressure by the Tavern League of Wisconsin, a powerful lobby that strongly opposes any smoking ban that doesn’t exempt taverns and often gets its way in the Legislature.

It doesn’t matter how a ban is passed, whether as part of the budget or in a stand-alone bill, but failure to pass it would be a black mark on the current legislative session.

The obligation of the state to protect workers, and by extension the general public, from the danger of secondhand smoke, just as it protects them from other workplace hazards, is beyond argument.

Secondhand smoke is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a carcinogen. The surgeon general has reported scientific findings that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke causes disease and premature death in those who don’t smoke. It is estimated that 50,000 deaths a year from lung cancer and heart disease among adult non-smokers are attributable to secondhand smoke.

Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa have enacted workplace smoking bans. Are Wisconsin workers any less entitled to this protection because this state happens to be the home of an exceptionally influential lobby that opposes smoking limits?

For their part, the tavern and restaurant owners who oppose a ban—many of them small-business owners trying to make a go of things in hard times—do so out of the fear that their customers will stay away if they aren’t allowed to smoke.

The experience of the Port Washington restaurant and bar and others that no longer allow their customers and employees to smoke on the premises suggests these fears are exaggerated.

In any case, a statewide ban would put all such establishments on an equal footing—none would have the competitive “advantage” of allowing smoking. This is not true with the patchwork smoking prohibitions enacted by a number of municipalities. Workplace smoking is such a blight that these bans will surely proliferate for as long the Legislature delays a state ban.

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