Commentary: Risser: the man behind the ban

Matt Pommer

The idea solicited guffaws from older members when it was introduced by a new member in the state Senate in 1963. It seemed to fly against the habits of most citizens. The U.S. Surgeon General’s warning had not yet been heard.

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, wanted to ban tobacco sales to people under age 16. The idea that year got only one vote — his — in a committee test.

This year Gov. Jim Doyle signed a statewide Clean Indoor Air Act which takes effect in July 2010. Many groups played a role in the passage of this law, but no one can compare to Risser and his persistent fight againstcigarettes online buy

First elected to the Assembly in 1956, Risser won a special election to the state Senate in 1962. He is completing 52 years of continuous legislative service. His service is the longest of any current legislator in the country. He is the fourth generation of his family to serve in the Wisconsin Legislature.

Risser, 82, has learned during his tenure that compromise can be the best solution. Tavern owners fought for years for an exemption to the smoking ban, but local communities eventually began enacting their own bans against smoking in workplaces, restaurants and taverns.

An immediate statewide ban would have been better, but Risser said no bill is perfect.

“The compromise can start saving lives and saving money for our taxpayers,” he said.

Another development that occurred since the Legislature added Wisconsin to the list of smoke-free states: Congress gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the opportunity to regulate aspects of the tobacco trade.

Risser called the congressional action a “step forward in ensuring safety in cigarettes and other products.”

“An aggressive FDA could create strict rules on the ingredients, sale and distribution of cigarettes. This action can go a long way in providing much needed oversight on the tobacco industry,” he said.

Riser suggested society must be vigilant to assure the FDA uses its new tools “to substantially improve the public health of our citizens.”

He will be among those anti-smoking crusaders keeping an eye on the actions of the FDA’s regulation of the tobacco industry.

And if that’s not enough to discourage cigarette use, the new state budget contains another tax increase on cigarettes, making it more expensive for anyone – regardless of age – to start the habit.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.


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