Officials: Few violations of smoking ban

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Jason Smathers
Sunday, August 15, 2010

For the most part, the coast is clear.

Since the state smoking ban went into effect July 5, law enforcement officials in Rock and Walworth counties have received few reports of violations.

So far, police in Janesville, Edgerton, Milton, Delavan and Elkhorn have not issued a single citation for violation of the state smoking ban and have received no complaints about violations.

The Rock and Walworth County sheriff’s offices have had only a handful of issues. Walworth County Sheriff David Graves said his office received one complaint of a bar violating the law. The owner was issued a warning.

Rock County Sheriff’s Capt. Jude Maurer said his department has only received two complaints, but they were not clear violations.

One complaint about an area business was forwarded from state Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan’s office on behalf of a constituent, but no violation was found.

The second complaint, which was forwarded by a Janesville Township official, regarded Three B’s Bar and Grill on Highway 14. The bar’s smoking pavilion is detached from the bar itself, but essentially is a garage.

The law prohibits smoking in an enclosed space, which is defined as a structure with a roof and at least three “substantial walls.” A substantial wall is defined as either a solid wall or one with openings that cover no more than 25 percent of the wall. Since the pavilion has garage doors that open when the pavilion is in use, authorities are unclear whether it is subject to the smoking ban as well.

Maurer said the sheriff’s office has placed calls to the state to clarify whether the pavilion violates the ordinance.

In the event a violation is reported at a local bar, law enforcement in both counties usually provide a warning to the bar owner. Only after repeated violations would officers issue a citation, which can range between $100 and $250.

But there are some nuanced differences between agencies.

In Edgerton, violations would be handled on a case-by-case basis and usually would address the person smoking first.

Rock County sheriff’s deputies, on the other hand, put most of the responsibility on bar owners. Only if there’s evidence that the bartender or owner did everything they could to prevent smoking in his or her business—including refusing to serve the patron—is the smoker held solely responsible.

Maurer said most businesses have done their best to comply with the law.

“We’ve had good relations with the owners in our area,” Maurer said. “They don’t want to be held accountable for the next review for their liquor license.”

State law says citations for a smoking ban violation cannot be used in any decision to revoke, renew or approve a businesses’ liquor license.

While law enforcement has had few problems with the ban, it has put some added strain on local bar owners.

Dan Ward, owner of The Sports Page in Elkhorn and president of the Walworth County Tavern League, said his sales have dropped 34 percent compared to last year. He said those sales are 21 percent lower than July 1997 and that he’s had two price increases since then.

“I hear people say that it’s because of recession, but so what?” Ward said. “We had a recession last year, too. Things weren’t this bad.”

Matt Schreier, owner of The Looking Glass in Janesville, said the ban has had little to no impact on his business. Schreier said he’s retained most of his patrons thanks in part to the bar’s smoking patio.

Schreier has had only one patron who lit a cigarette in his bar since the ban. As soon as the man realized what he’d done, he quickly ran outside with the cigarette, Schreier said.

Ward notified members of the Walworth County Tavern League to hold on to their sales figures so they can be used to sway the state to repeal or amend the law after the November elections. Both Republican gubernatorial candidates, Scott Walker and Mark Neumann, have pledged to repeal the smoking ban.

“If we can show them the very negative effect this has had on us, and how their tax revenue has fallen, we just might get some relief,” Ward said in his letter to league members. “We need to have the numbers to back our claim.”

Schreier doesn’t see much use in trying to fight the ban, but he does think his patrons should be the ones deciding whether the business is smoke-free, not the government.

Last updated: 2:43 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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