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Potential statewide smoking ban draws mixed reactions

December 13, 2007

Imagine it is a Friday night, you enter the local bar downtown and you notice something different: no one is smoking. This situation could soon become a reality in River Falls. There is a bill in the Wisconsin legislature that could put in effect, a statewide smoking ban much like the one Minnesota introduced in October.

Senate President Fred Risser introduced the bill in April, but the bill has stalled in the Senate, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Gov. Doyle has been urging the legislature to pass the smoking ban.

“Our neighboring states are becoming smoke free and Legislators need to act now to make public places smoke free,” Doyle said in a press release issued by the Governor’s office.

The Tavern League of Wisconsin is against the ban because it will hurt business for bars and restaurants in the state and the league will “fight a statewide smoking ban.”

On their Web site, they have listed a petition and brochures against a statewide smoking ban.

“A temporary negative impact on restaurant sales was found in cases where 100 percent smoking bans (excluding the bar area) were in effect at the county level. The estimated declines in annual sales ranged from roughly 49 to 55 percent at restaurants where such bans were enacted two to three years prior to the survey,” according to the Tavern League of Wisconsin Web site.

On the other side of the debate, an organization called Smoke Free Wisconsin has been working to help pass the smoking ban.

“Secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U. S. Every year secondhand smoke kills 53,000 nonsmoking Americans.”

They would like to prevent these deaths by enforcing a smoking ban.

In River Falls there is currently a smoking ordinance. It was enacted in 2003, and it prohibits smoking in indoor areas of restaurants. Establishments that have a restaurant license and sales that are more than 50 percent alcohol can have smoking in its establishment.

Opinions in River Falls are mixed about having a statewide smoking ban. Lu Ann Hecht, the deputy clerk, does not know how a smoking ban would affect River Falls. “Businesses near the border of Minnesota are probably enjoying better sales because of the Minnesota smoking ban,” Hecht said.

Hecht also recalls there not being a lot of controversy when the smoking ordinance was passed in River Falls a few years earlier.

A UWRF student and a server at Bo’s ‘N Mine Bar in River Falls supports the smoking ban. “I think a ban is good; I hate people smoking in my face,” Sophomore Tara Fisher said. “I don’t think it will affect business because it is not a big deal in Minnesota.”

Another employee at Bo’s ‘N Mine does not approve of the smoking ban.

“It will damper business for a lot of bars in smaller towns like River Falls and in VFW’s where people have been smoking for 60 years,” Joe Colberg said.

Colberg is a smoker himself and “does not want to go out to smoke in the cold.”

Monica Gartmann, a patron of Bo’s and Mine and other River Falls bars, is also against the smoking ban.

“[The state] is just looking for a new way to make money. This ban has happened coincidentally after the state raised the tax on cigarettes,” Gartmann said. “The ban will essentially kill small town businesses.”

UWRF has also looked at the idea of a campus-wide smoking ban. The idea was brought to the attention of the Student Senate a few weeks ago at the student association meeting. No motion has been brought forward at this time.