• Transition To Smoke-free Worth The Effort
  • After a solid year of enjoying smoke-free air in Wisconsin restaurants and other establishments, it would be difficult to return to life without a statewide smoking cigarettes ban.

    It appears there's no immediate danger in that since Gov. Scott Walker announced Thursday he would continue the ban signed into law by his predecessor, Gov. Jim Doyle. We breathed a little easier when Walker reversed his stance and said in a statement: "Although I did not support the original smoking cigarettes ban, after listening to people across the state, it is clear to me that it works. Therefore I will not support a repeal."

    On this first anniversary of Wisconsin's smoking cigarettes ban, we think it was the right decision to enact the law, which prohibits smoking cigarettes in all bars, restaurants and work places.

    We understand the position of business owners who believe they have lost customers as a result of this law, but we support the ban because we think public health is of equal concern.

    Numerous studies have shown the serious health risks associated with tobacco products, including dangers from second-hand smoke. A study released last fall and published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that children who live in smoke-free homes inside multiunit dwellings were exposed to secondhand smoke cigarettes released through vents and air ducts. The study tested children's blood for cotinine, a tobacco metabolite used to measure exposure to secondhand smoke, and found that levels of the chemical were higher in children who lived in apartments — even though they're own unit was smoke-free — than those who lived in single-family homes.

    Studies like that underscore the potential health hazard that we all face when we're exposed to tobacco smoke. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, tobacco smoke cigarettes contains a mixture of more than 7,000 chemicals and compounds, of which hundreds are toxic.

    Recently, U.S. health officials released nine graphic warning labels that will begin appearing on cigarette packs next year. One image depicts a corpse with the warning: "Smoking can kill you." It's a sign of the times that America has become more determined in addressing this societal threat.

    We acknowledge that going smoke-free hasn't been easy for every business owner, whether they've renovated or added space. They certainly had plenty of time to prepare, as the ban passed the state Legislature on May 13, 2009, and became effective July 5 last year.

    Also, there is evidence to suggest smoking cigarettes bans needn't have an adverse effect on businesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have studied the impact of smoke-free laws, and the results are encouraging for business owners who previously allowed smoking cigarettes in their establishments. For example, the CDC found that restaurant and bar revenues in New York City increased nearly 9 percent from April 2003 through January 2004 after the city implemented its smoke-free law. Also, El Paso, Texas, saw no declines in total restaurant, bar or mixed-beverage revenues during the first year after that city's workplace smoking cigarettes ban was adopted.

    There's no way to know if Wisconsin will follow these trends, but the fact that so many places have done well under a smoke-free ban should be encouraging for local businesses.

    Smoking remains a crucial public health issue. Let's hope this is the first of many anniversaries we celebrate as a smoke-free state.