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Smoking hurts everyone

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Sen. Judy Robson
February 1, 2008

Nobody should have to breathe secondhand smoke while trying to enjoy an evening out. Nor should anyone have to breathe secondhand smoke as a condition of employment.


Secondhand smoke causes the same diseases as firsthand smokeólung cancer, heart disease and respiratory illness. As a nurse, Iíve seen the painful, debilitating toll that smoking takes on human bodies. Thatís why I support Senate Bill 150, the Breathe Free Wisconsin Act.


This bill would prohibit smoking in any indoor place thatís a place of employment or open to the public. Some say bars and restaurants will go out of business if people arenít allowed to smoke. But even smoking customers can adapt to smoke-free environments. In cities with smoke-free workplace ordinances, bar and restaurant owners found creative ways to keep old customers and attract new customers, such as outdoor patio seating.


Smoking drives customers away from bowling alleys and live-music venues. Many establishments see increased business when smoke-free policies are adopted, as occurred when Springfield, Ill., went smoke-free in 2006. Instead of drops in revenue, bars and restaurants experienced increases. All Illinois workplaces went smoke-free this Jan. 1.


In Appleton, which went smoke-free in 2005, thereís a waiting list for liquor licenses for the first time. Instead of going out of business, new bars are opening.


Some say that if nonsmokers donít like smoky venues, they shouldnít go there and shouldnít work there. But I believe everyone should be able to earn a living in a smoke-free environment. They shouldnít have to choose between their health and paychecks.


Smoke-free workplaces will reduce the occurrence of smoking-related diseases, which cost all of us money in higher health insurance premiums, hospital rates and Medicaid spending.


Senate Bill 150 has support of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, the Wisconsin Innkeepers Association, the Association of Wisconsin Tourism Attractions and the Wisconsin Tourism Federation.


However, itís uncertain whether the leadership in both houses of the Legislature will permit a vote on it. The chair of the Senate Public Health Committee has offered a compromise bill that gives taverns an extra year before the smoking ban takes effect. The effective date for bars and restaurants would be Jan. 1, 2010; for all other places, it would be Jan. 1, 2009.


That compromise doesnít go far enough for opponents of the bill, who want to permit taverns to allow smoking in separate rooms that arenít served by employees. Opponents of the bill say itís better to go part of the way to a statewide smoking ban than none of the way.


Proponents are holding out for a strong statewide smoking ban, one that allows zero smoking at indoor workplaces. Make your views known by calling the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-362-9472.


Among the duties of government are to protect the public health and ensure workplace safety. Cigarette manufacturers were irresponsible for decades in selling a product they knew was addictive and deadly. That product continues to be sold, but government has a legitimate role in restricting where cigarettes are used.


Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, represents Wisconsinís 15th Senate District. Readers can reach her at (608) 266-2253 or at sen.robson@legis.Wisconsin.gov.

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