With a Common Council committee's consideration of a new smoking ban in Milwaukee -- introduced by Ald. Joe Davis -- set for Thursday, March 2, we asked two people passionate about the issue to share their points of view. If the council's Public Safety Committee approves the ban this week, it goes to the entire Common Council for a vote on March 21. As currently written, the ban would be phased-in for local bars and restaurants, and bars that get at least 75 percent of business from alcohol sales would have two years until the ban would take effect; the rest would have three months after passage.
Point: Momentum is building and the time is now
By Russ Hinz, chief operating officer, American Cancer Society
Beginning this week, Milwaukee has the chance to protect its public and economic health with one smart move.
The Common Council has the opportunity and the responsibility to pass strong, smart, simple smoke-free workplace protection, keeping residents and tourists healthy while awarding businesses a healthy bottom line. Why a Smoke-free Milwaukee?
Your Health. Evidence of health risks associated with secondhand smoke is clear, convincing and overwhelming. It's not a matter of public debate. The link between it and lung cancer is well documented and indisputable. Even short-term exposure is shown to boost the risk and increase the severity of a heart attack. Secondhand smoke triggers asthma attacks and is linked to SIDS and low birth weight babies.
Your Business. When tobacco smoke is eliminated, workers are healthier, more productive and absent less, which saves money and reduces health care costs. In addition, quite contrary to claims that going smoke-free is bad for business; independent studies consistently show an economic boost. Madison has had 16 new applications for liquor licenses and Appleton has had a five-year low in bar closings since their comprehensive ordinances began July 1. And this is not just a Wisconsin phenomenon. There are now 2000-plus cities and across the country with smoke-free legislation in place.
Our Diversity. Secondhand smoke is an occupational health hazard for all, but blue-collar workers, service workers and minorities bear the heaviest burden. Just 43 percent of food and service employees are protected by smoke-free policy, while 75 percent of all white-collar workers benefit. African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans are far less likely than whites to be protected. This disparity is made even more urgent by recent research finding African-Americans to be more susceptible to lung cancer than whites. Whether working in an office, a store, a restaurant or a bar, each Milwaukeean deserves equal protection.
Your choice. Simply put, you shouldn't have to choose between your job and your health. No one should. People working in food service suffer six times the level of exposure to secondhand smoke than even those working in an office where smoking is allowed. This explains why studies show food service workers are at 50 percent greater risk for lung cancer than the rest of us. Smoke-free law improves the health and lung function of patrons and employees, while reducing wheezing, coughing and hospital admissions. Your workplace should not be hazardous to your health. We hope it soon won't be.
Your rights. Everyone has the right to breathe clean air. No one has to breathe the 4,000 chemicals and 40 known cancer-causing agents in secondhand smoke. Inspectors would shut down a restaurant or bar if they found even traces of that in your food or drink. Contact your alderman, (414) 286-2221, and tell him tell him that clean air should be no more "optional" than clean kitchens or safe food. Ask him to support a smoke-free workplace law with no loopholes or exemptions. You deserve better. You deserve to breathe free, Milwaukee.
Counterpoint: Smoking ban is a consumer rights issue
By Ald. Robert G. Donovan, 8th District
At a time when Milwaukee is making national headlines for crime and at a time when citizens are crying out for more jobs, I find it baffling that some leaders in this town would choose to tackle a smoking ban.
Supporters of the ban say they are concerned about the health of the employees and patrons of smoking establishments. They tout it as a "public health" issue. But I see it as a consumer rights issue. Business owners who fear a loss of revenue from a ban are pooh-poohed by anti-smoking advocates. But I represent a South Side district where the restaurants and bars are all independently owned, mom and pop type operations. These businesses are not making money hand over fist. A loss of even 10-15 percent of revenue from a ban can have dire consequences for them. It is my belief that government should do all it can to help small business succeed. It should be a demand from the consumer that motivates a business to go smoke free, not the government.
Similarly, no one is forcing employees to work in a smoking environment. No one is forcing patrons to frequent such places. And most importantly, whether this ban moves forward or not, businesses are free -- right now -- to go smoke free. The fact that most choose not to, says a lot about what consumers in Milwaukee want. Why should consumer choice be taken away?
I would also like to make note of the fact that enforcement of the ban would be done by the City's Health Department. Currently, health inspectors only work until 5:00 p.m. Are we really willing to spend tax dollars to hire more health inspectors to work in the evening or on weekends to enforce a ban? I would venture to guess that most citizens would rather see the 300 vacancies on the police force filled before we go and hire smoking inspectors.
There are other weaknesses to the ban. As proposed, it would create allowances for establishments that provide a ventilation system to control smoke. But even the American Cancer Society's own studies show that ventilation systems are ineffective at controlling secondhand smoke. The ban also calls for a two-year grace period before most establishments would have to comply. No one is denying the health effects of secondhand smoke. But I'm curious ... if the ban is being proposed in the interest of public health, why create exceptions for smoke control methods that even cancer organizations deem ineffective? And why allow employees and patrons to breath secondhand smoke for two whole years before compliance becomes mandatory?
Lastly, I would like to point out that this proposed ban was not the result of any kind of grassroots effort on the part of the citizenry. It was proposed and is being supported by special interest groups like the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, and the Black Health Coalition. All these groups have highly paid staffers and lobbyists. Who is the lobbyist for the little guy? What mom and pop business owner can afford to take out television ads or pay people to stick up for them?
I have heard from many residents on this issue, both in and around Milwaukee. Many have made the same comment, "Doesn't Milwaukee have better things to worry about than smoking?" I'm asking the same question.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OnMilwaukee.com, its advertisers or editorial staff.