The Wisconsin Legislature's passage of a state-wide smoking ban seems like all but a done deal at this point, and generally, I couldn't be happier. I'm about as ardent a smoking ban proponent as you're likely to find. I've enjoyed the hell out of the ban in Madison, going out to bars and clubs far more often, not worrying about whether or not my voice will stop working in the middle of a show, and being able to wear a shirt the day after going out and not smell like a chimney.
I firmly believe in the freedom and liberty of people--which stops once it begins to infringe upon the freedom and liberty of others, like my right not to inhale your smoke when I'm trying to enjoy some live music or have a meal.
But I have to admit, there are aspects of this ban bill that irk me. The fact that the workplace smoke ban applies even to hotel rooms seems, well, a bit far-reaching. Hotels generally maintain both smoking and non-smoking rooms. So when you book your stay, you can indicate which you'd prefer. Smoking and non-smoking rooms are generally well and thoroughly separated from one another in the layout of the building, and everyone is happy. Being that this situation is not at all analogous to being in a restaurant or bar where it's nigh unto impossible to keep all of the smoke away from a non-smoking section or non-smoker, I think it merits its own exception. Or at least a re-thinking.
And while I was glad to see an exemption in the bill for cigar bars, it occurred to me: Why not create a special designation and licensing process for, say, cigarette bars? Or just tobacco clubs in general? The idea came up in a lively discussion over at Dane101, and I have to admit, it seems like a perfectly reasonable compromise. Licensing for such establishments wouldn't be easy, but it would at least give a business owner the option of running an indoor bar/club specifically for smokers (or those who didn't mind being in a smokey room*). But that should be the niche, the exception, not the rule. Non-smoking establishments should be that rule.
Which is why, overall, I'm pleased as punch that the bill is being passed--even though I have the aforementioned reservations about its overall fairness. It's a start. We're shifting the playing field so that smoke-free, as it should be, is the norm. The next step, I believe, should be in carving out fair, equitable spaces for those who still choose smoke.
*Let it be noted that I also think there needs to be 1) better prevention and treatment programs for smokers, 2) stiffer penalties and taxes levied against tobacco companies, and 2) health care penalty fees for those who willfully choose not to quit. Being that I'm a fan of government-paid health care, I recognize the burden that would be placed on such a system by those who refused to take care of themselves. That's their choice, certainly, but the resulting, avoidable illnesses ought not place undo burden on everyone else.
(photo by Whiskeygonebad on Flickr)