Sunday, July 29, 2007

Time to level the smoke-free playing field

Six years ago the Kenosha Common Council adopted a compromise smoke-free dining ordinance which banned smoking in most restaurants. While watered down from the original proposal, it still was a commendable effort to improve public health and safety.

Notably, there are over 30 communities in Wisconsin with smoke-free ordinances. Surprisingly, Milwaukee and Racine aren't among them. (Maybe it's not so surprising given that it seems politicians in Racine can only agree on one thing: to be disagreeable.)

The Kenosha ordinance contains two glaring exceptions: (1) a segregated, separately-ventilated smoking room and (2) restaurants where more than 33% of the sales are from alcohol. These exceptions were put into place to appease ordinance opponents. It's time to remove them.

The original proposal was modeled after the Eau Claire city ordinance where there are no "smoking rooms" allowed and the cut-off point for alcohol sales is 50%.

The former is a no-brainer. You don't promote public health and safety with "smoking rooms" (and even the people who make the ventilation systems will tell you they don't work). You also create disparity between restaurants that can afford the separate facilities and those that can't.

The 50% cutoff was also logical because that's the dividing line between whether an establishment is considered a "restaurant" or a "tavern" in other laws. For example, persons under 21 aren't allowed on premises where more than 50% of the business is from alcohol sales, i.e., taverns, unless accompanied by an adult.

Whatever juice flowed to the aldermen at the time the ordinance was enacted should have dried up by now. In fact, there's strong public demand for 100% smoke-free legislation, an idea whose time has also come. Plus, the dire predictions six years ago by opponents of restaurants dyring off like flies in a Raid test laboratory didn't come true.

But while the aldermen try to summon up the courage to deal with the greater battle, they should at least fix the loopholes they created six years ago.

And while they're at it, the Pleasant Prairie Village Board needs to step up to the plate.

The village board, after witnessing the dog and pony show tobacco industry shills presented to the city council, decided they'd take a novel approach: grandfather the establishments that already allowed smoking and prohibit it in the future everywhere else. It was a gutsy move then but it's pretty long in the tooth now.

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