Smokers go outside as tobacco ban comes in
Love it or hate it, Monday, July 5, marks the end of most indoor smoking in Wisconsin.
Some call it the "smoking ban," the "clean air act," or the "smoke-free law."
Legislators called it "prohibition against smoking" when they added a new section to the law regulating industry, buildings and safety.
Practically the only places smoking will be allowed is in private homes and certain assisted-living facility rooms used as someone's home.
The St. Croix County Health Educator and Tobacco Control Specialist Geralyn Karl says the law doesn't mean to force people to stop smoking, but keeps them from having to choose between their job and their health.
Pierce County Tobacco Control Specialist Carmen Bertelsen agrees with Karl and confirms the law addresses a serious public-health issue. She said the law ultimately works toward keeping people out of hospitals.
"This is a health issue," said Bertelsen, "a totally non-partisan issue. There is there's no red or blue here."
Bertelsen said in January, the county joined the five county Multi-Jurisdictional Coalition (MJC) for Tobacco Prevention and Control. She mentions another group named FACT -- Fighting Against Corporate Tobacco -- active in Ellsworth and Prescott and focused on keeping kids from smoking, especially since the cigarettes of today aren't the same as a generation or two ago.
Bertelsen says they now have more carcinogens and additional addictive ingredients.
Bertelsen said if businesses did not already receive an informational packet in the mail, they can get one at the county offices in Ellsworth.
She said about the law and its supporting efforts, "If it makes the people of our county healthier, we're all for it."
Local changes, perspectives
Shooter's Pub on Elm Street is one of few in River Falls with no outdoor option, no space to expand in any adjacent direction.
Owner Dan "Shooter" Suffield and a few customers last week could only think of local two places in the same position: Ground Zero and Boomer's.
Suffield said, "I'm landlocked."
He's apprehensive about how the new law will affect business but says his customers know his hands are tied.
State Senator for the 31st District Kathleen Vinehout, who opposed the smoking ban, wrote Suffield a three-page letter that starts out, "Many tavern owners and patrons contacted me wondering what this will mean to their livelihood," and, "State government should not have the authority to tell a tavern owner if his or her patrons can enjoy a legal product."
Suffield, a non smoker, agrees and wonders why cigarettes aren't just outlawed.
He and his customers agreed it seems backward to banish a product because it is a public-health hazard while eagerly collecting nearly $3 a pack in taxes from it.
A Shooter's customer who often comes in to have a smoke and a beer, Keith Olson, says he'll go along with the law, but it may mean he'll buy beer and take it home more than patronize local taverns.
"Smoking and drinking go together," he smiled.
Most other tavern businesses in River Falls either established or plan to establish an outdoor area where people can take their drink with them and have a cigarette.
The City Council had a rush of liquor-license renewal applications asking the city to license various outdoor areas.
Most responsibility for making patrons follow the law rests with tavern owners. They're the first line of authority in asking people not to smoke inside.
The smoker and the bar owner can get cited for violating the law.
The tavern owner first gets a warning then a citation not to exceed more than $100 per day. An individual smoking does not get a warning first and risks being ticketed for a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $250 a day.
Police Chief Roger Leque said observing the violation is most likely to result in a fine, but people can be cited based on the testimony of a reliable witness or group.
"If we had credible evidence that it was occurring, we could cite on that," he said.
Leque thinks people and bars have had ample time to review the law. Most know and understand what is expected. He hopes with all the preparation already done, the law going into effect will be a non event.
It is likely to be a tough change for some, while many others welcome it. While much remains to be seen, one thing is certain: Change is coming.
People can find more information on either county's website or by contacting the county tobacco specialist.
For St. Croix County, go online to www.co.saint-croix.wi.us, click on departments -- public health -- scroll down to chronic disease control and click on tobacco prevention and control or contact Karl at 715-246-8393 or firstname.lastname@example.org.