Smoke-Free Workplaces 17 Months Later

Tuesday, March 20, 2007 - 6:25am

Implications for Proposed State-wide Smoking Ban

Madison, WI, Tuesday, March 20, 2007

When Madison's smoke-free workplace ordinance passed into law in September of 2005, there were concerns that it would harm the local hospitality industry. Evidence to date suggests that, while some establishments have been adversely impacted, the industry as a whole continues to grow and do well. Moreover, indoor air quality has improved dramatically with measurable benefits to the public's health.

For example:
• Total Class B combination alcohol licenses have increased by 5.4% since passage of the smoke-free ordinance (332 in 2005, 339 in 2006 and 350 in 2007).
• The ordinance may have played a role in some of the 13 tavern closures to date but lease issues, retirement of owners, and law enforcement violations were also factors.
• Of these 13 sites, 10 have reopened under new management with new alcohol licenses. Health department inspectors report that at least 5 of these reopened businesses have expanded food service.

The Wisconsin Restaurant Association supports a statewide ban on smoking in public places. This new data should reinforce their support and may help assure the Tavern League and its membership that adaptation to a smoke-free environment is feasible, in Madison with an 85% non-smoking population and, hopefully, in Wisconsin with 78% non-smokers.

Other data demonstrate to the industry, its clientele and the general public that cleaner indoor air has had substantial positive effect on the health of patrons and employees. Drs. Palmersheim, Remington and Gundersen of the U.W. Tobacco Surveillance and Evaluation Program sampled 840 bartenders working in Madison and Appleton and found that, not only had their exposure to second hand smoke dramatically decreased, but that the change in working conditions resulted in measurable and statistically significant improvement for eight upper respiratory symptoms including cough, wheezing and sore throat. Surveys in taverns in Madison and Appleton prior to the bans measured exposure to air toxins 2 to 15 times the EPA permissible limit
(PM 2.5 of 0.065mg/Cubic Meter). Last year the Surgeon General of the United States reported that "there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke."

Reflecting on the Tavern League's counter proposal to Governor Doyle's plan to ban smoking in all public places, Tommye Schneider, chief of Environmental Health of Public Health Madison-Dane County, reports that "the exemption for taverns that preceded the current ban created extraordinary problems of fairness and reasonableness. There was confusion about the legal formulas that defined the difference between a restaurant and a tavern and about non-smoking sections vs. smoking sections. The confusion affected both owners and customers, and made enforcement very difficult. All of that difficulty vanished with the extension of the ban to all establishments.

According to Dr. Thomas Schlenker, director of Public Health Madison-Dane County, "data from both Madison and Appleton should suggest to our legislators that they have a tremendous opportunity to improve the public health of the entire state in a way that is fair and equitable to business. A state-wide ban would eliminate the disadvantage that local bans might impose on those restaurants and taverns that have nearby competitors that allow smoking as exempted private clubs or because they are located outside municipal boundaries."

Tommye Schneider concluded "our experience in Madison suggests that it is possible to establish a level playing field that creates equal treatment for all businesses, not to mention a healthier environment for their customers and employees. The legislature could learn something from our experience."

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Contacts: 
  • Jeff Golden, 267-2583