Wisconsin smoke ban exemption now law

Anti-smoking activists are angry about an exemption to Wisconsin’s smoking ban that allows people to light up in rooms in which a quarter or more of the walls are windows.

However, they don’t expect a widespread effort to subvert the law that takes effect July 5.

The Tavern League of Wisconsin 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.

Gov. Jim Doyle signed the bill into law Tuesday that includes the open-air exemption.

“I don’t think it undermines anything,” Tavern League director Pete Madland said. “It’s a very workable and amicable compromise.”

Anti-smoking advocates warned that attempts to subvert the smoking ban won’t work.

“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 exemption that allows smoking in open-air rooms first came to light last month when The Post-Crescent reported the efforts of Grand Chute building inspector Cary Nate to publicize the loophole.

“It says you can’t smoke in an enclosed indoor space, and they defined enclosed space as an area ‘with a roof and more than two substantial walls,'” Nate told The P-C. “Then they defined substantial walls as ‘a wall with an opening that may be used to allow air in from the outside that is less than 25 percent of the wall surface.’

“If the window or door was more than 25 percent of the surface, it was no longer a substantial wall.”

Nate said he informed state Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, and Ellis’ staff members told him, “You’re wrong.” Then they called him back two days later and said, “You’re right.”

The bill Doyle signed Tuesday closes unintended loopholes in the law that might 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 expects many of them will move ahead with construction. He doesn’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 still is allowed — at least for the next two months — in Milwaukee, the state’s largest city.

Busalacchi said she remains confident that the ban will have the desired effect, even if a few outdoor smoking rooms popped up.

“(The ban) is going to be good for business and it’s going to be great for health,” she said.

source: postcrescent.com

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