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Wisconsin should join Minnesota and ban all workplace smoking

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Rob Guilbert
October 6, 2008

Wisconsin could learn something from its neighbor to the west when it comes to a statewide smoke free law. Oct. 1 marked one year since Minnesota ended all workplace smoking, including inside bars and restaurants. Minnesotans are happier and healthier because of it.


According to a new poll released last week, a full 77 percent of Minnesotans from across the state say they support the “Freedom to Breathe” law. What’s more, a University of Minnesota study found an 83 percent decrease in nonsmoking bar and restaurant workers’ exposure to nicotine and an 85 percent decrease in their exposure to cancer-causing chemicals in secondhand smoke since the law took effect.


Those are impressive numbers for public health and public policy and it’s time Wisconsin lawmakers pay attention.


People in Wisconsin are tired of seeing the smoke-free bill pushed around like a political pawn; their public health is not a game, and they’re calling for change. They want to elect candidates who not only support protecting all workers’ health but promise to do so within the first 100 days of the session. No more delays. No more gimmicks. Candidates need to put action to their words. Every person in Wisconsin deserves the right to breathe smoke-free air at work.


Secondhand smoke causes cancer, heart disease, emphysema and, according to the Wisconsin Department of Family Services, 800 deaths in this state each year. Yet Wisconsin lawmakers continue to try to dodge and distract.


No more.


In the last nine months, four cities and all of Dane County have passed comprehensive smoke-free ordinances. Kenosha and Fond du Lac are actively considering doing the same, and several more communities are looking to end this public health threat.


People are fed up with the “do nothing” Legislature and are getting their local leaders to do something, which is great, but ultimately not enough. If every Wisconsin worker is going to get the necessary protection from secondhand smoke at work, we need a strong statewide law. After all, cancer doesn’t stop at the city or state line, heart disease doesn’t differentiate by ZIP code, and people in Wisconsin can no longer tolerate another year of inaction.


Now is Wisconsin’s chance to move forward and send leaders to Madison who will stand up to Big Tobacco and special interests, who will protect the public health and who will ensure that Wisconsin can soon celebrate its own smoke-free anniversary, just like Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and 24 other smoke-free states.


It’s time Wisconsin finally stops counting lives lost to secondhand smoke and starts counting lives saved!


Rob Guilbert is president of Assurant Health Foundation, vice president of Assurant Health Corporate Communications and is a member of the SmokeFree Wisconsin Board. Readers can contact SmokeFree Wisconsin at 401 Wisconsin Ave., Madison, WI 53703; phone (608) 268-2620; e-mail sfw@smokefreewi.org; Web site www.smokefreewi.org.

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