Wisconsin’s bars and restaurants could get around the state’s smoking ban by building rooms in which a quarter or more of the walls are windows, under a bill Gov. Jim Doyle signed into law Tuesday.
The Wisconsin Tavern League had been lobbying for a law change that would allow the 5,000 bars and restaurants it represents to have legal outdoor smoking areas, including ones that would be like four-seasons rooms with roofs and partial walls.
“I don’t think it undermines anything,” Tavern League director Pete Madland said of the bill Doyle signed. “It’s a very workable and amicable compromise.”
The statewide smoking ban passed last year takes effect July 5. Anti-smoking advocates who pushed it said they don’t anticipate a widespread attempt to get around its intent, which was to snuff out smoking in all public places.
“If bar owners start to play cute, the public isn’t going to be happy about that,” said Maureen Busalacchi, executive director of SmokeFree Wisconsin. “To make an investment to throw up some kind of structure like this in this kind of economy, doesn’t really make sense. People adjust. They learn to go outside.”
The bill Doyle signed Tuesday also closes unintended loopholes in the law that may have allowed for smoking indoors in windowless rooms or in rooms where windows make up at least a quarter of the walls but don’t open to allow in fresh air.
The Tavern League, which opposed the original ban, supported the technical changes approved by the Legislature and signed by Doyle.
Madland said his organization has heard from bar owners across the state asking if they could begin work on largely open-air rooms where smoking would be legal. Now that the law is signed, Madland said he anticipates many of them will move ahead with construction. He didn’t have a good estimate of how many might be built.
Wisconsin will become the 28th state to prohibit smoking in all public places once the law takes effect. Many communities are already there: 38 cities or counties already ban smoking in all bars, restaurants and workplaces. That includes the cities of Madison, Appleton, Kenosha, La Crosse and Wausau.
However, smoking is still allowed — at least for the next two months — in Milwaukee, the state’s largest city.
Busalacchi said she remained confident that the ban would have the desired effect, even if a few outdoor smoking rooms popped up.
“This is going to be good for business and it’s going to be great for health,” she said of the ban.
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