Janesville taverns prepare for smoking ban
JANESVILLE With Wisconsin’s smoking ban just days away, some local tavern owners have taken steps to accommodate customers who want to light up.
Others are scrambling to meet provisions of the law, which takes effect Monday, July 5, and is intended to clear the indoor air at workplaces statewide.
The law, however, allows smoking on patios, decks and other spaces outside a business, and many local taverns have been developing smoking areas that get around the state’s definition of enclosed spaces.
“I know of several places that have already created these areas, even as early as last year,” said Sharen Hoskins, president of the Rock County Tavern League and owner of East Point Sportz Pub on East Milwaukee Street.
Despite strong opposition from the Tavern League of Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle signed the workplace smoking ban into law in May 2009. That gave tavern owners more than a year to prepare.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services most recent “Burden of Tobacco Report” suggests that nearly 15 percent of all annual deaths in Wisconsin are attributable to cigarette smoking. In addition, $2.8 billion is paid annually in direct health care costs.
Hoskins said that while many local tavern owners might not like the law, they’ve accepted it and made plans to accommodate smokers.
“But there is still some extreme resentment from the places that don’t have the resources—space or money—to do it,” she said.
Kelly Richards of Deano’s West Side Pub agrees that some tavern owners are limited in what they can do to accommodate smokers.
But there’s another reason for the resentment, she said.
“I just don’t think the government should be telling people how to run their businesses,” she said.
The law permits the use of outdoor smoking structures as long as the area does not meet the state’s definition of an enclosed structure.
That’s where things get murky, said Gale Price, the city’s manager of building and development services.
“This legislation is horribly written,” Price said. “When we write legislation, we normally include thresholds that include what’s allowed. This is written backwards.”
Price and his City Hall colleagues have been busy working with tavern owners and issuing permits for smoking structures where food and beverages will be served. He suspects it will take some time to crystallize the law and its intentions as the law takes effect and taverns come up with new ways to get around it.
One of the people Price has worked with is Tina Russell, who with her husband, Jeff, owns Russ’ Park Place Pub on East Racine Street. The Russells are adding a deck on one side of the building and will replace a window with a door to allow access, which is mandated by state law.
“I will not refer to it as a smoking deck,” Russell said. “We will use it for steak fries and for people who just want to sit outside.
“I don’t want people to think this will be a deck enveloped by a huge cloud of smoke. It will dissipate.”
Enforcement of the ban will rest on local law enforcement.
The bill requires that a warning be issued to the tavern or bartender for a first violation. Subsequent violations will cost $100 a day regardless of the number of individual smoking violations.
Smokers, however, face fines that range between $100 and $250.
Janesville Deputy Police Chief Dan Davis said his department is not anticipating much of a problem with the smoking ban.
“We will not be actively pursuing smokers, but we will respond on a complaint basis,” Davis said. “If someone was to light up where they’re not supposed to, they would likely be asked to put it out, and I would hope that they would.
“But I imagine it could happen that we could get some complaints.”
Hoskins said she hopes it isn’t necessary to involve police, who she said have more important priorities.
“But I don’t want my bartenders getting into fights over this,” she said, adding that East Point has added a smoking patio to the front of its building.
“I don’t want to have to tell my patrons that they have to either snuff it out or leave,” she said. “I’d rather tell them that if they want to smoke they have to go outside.”
Russell doesn’t anticipate significant problems.
“I’m sure there will be a few accidents where people have a few beers, forget the ban and instinctively light a cigarette,” said Russell, who has experience with smoking bans from her years in the restaurant business.
SMOKING BAN HIGHLIGHTS
Wisconsin Act 12, also known as the workplace smoking ban, will go into effect Monday, July 5. Under the new statute:
-- Smoking is not allowed in bars, restaurants, private clubs or other workplaces.
-- Smoking is permitted on outdoor patios, in private residences, tobacco retailers, tobacco bars and certain residence rooms in assisted living facilities.
-- Individuals violating the law can be fined $100 to $250. Businesses violating the law will be given a warning and then be subject to a maximum daily fine of $100, regardless of the number of violations.
-- An enclosed space, where smoking is prohibited, is defined as a structure or area that has a roof and three or more substantial walls.
-- A “substantial wall” is a wall with an opening that is less than 25 percent of the wall’s surface area and allows air in from the outside.
-- If an outdoor structure has four solid walls and no permanent roof, it would not meet the definition of an enclosed space and smoking would be allowed.
-- If an outdoor structure has a roof and four walls and two or more of the walls have an opening greater than 25 percent, smoking is permitted.
Source: SmokeFree Wisconsin, Tavern League of Wisconsin