By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Aug 25, 2010 at 4:08 PM

Seven weeks after the statewide smoking ban went into effect in Wisconsin, bar owners and patrons alike are still getting used to the new ordinance and adjusting their habits.

For bars with outdoor patio space, the situation hasn't been that bad, though some bars have noticed a drop-off. Those without the amenities have struggled.

Then there are bars that were already smoke-free before the ban went into effect July 5. In other states, such places felt an initial drop-off when bans went into effect as non-smokers took their business to other establishments, ones they avoided because of smoke.

Mike Eitel's Nomad World Pub eliminated smoking several weeks before the Wisconsin ban went into effect. His business has been steady, though being a popular soccer bar during the recent World Cup helped a great deal.

"Certainly, it was a big boost for us," Eitel says. "But I know that before that, when we made the decision to go smoke-free, we lost some customers."

Eitel says the ban was a little easier to stomach because most communities in the area didn't have local ordinances when the statewide ban went into effect. That wasn't the case in Minnesota, where many smokers flocked to St. Paul when Minneapolis put the butts out.

"It was kind of a level playing field," Eitel says. "You didn't really have that island effect."

The Health Department, which is handling reports of violations, says that so far, only 38 complaints have been filed and seven of those have been repeat complaints.

"We get about five per week," says Paul Biedrzycki, the city's director of disease control and environmental health. "That's fairly-low volume."

When a complaint is filed, the health department sends a letter to the offending establishment and, if further action is deemed necessary, the complaint is referred to the Milwaukee Police Department for enforcement.

Biedrzycki says the nearly one year of lead time before the ban went into effect helped a great deal in preventing rouge establishments and an influx of violations.

"People knew it was coming," Biedrzycki says. "There was a certain amount of social and consumer pressure to not allow smoking so it was self-enforced, so to speak."

The big question won't be answered for a few more weeks.

Smokers have had little problem popping outside for a puff during the warm-weather months, but what will happen come winter, when temperatures plummet and most of the city's outdoor patios are closed.

"That's what I'm most interested to see," says Eitel. "I think it's going to have a lot of people looking at expenses like heaters and outside smoking areas to keep customers."

Wisconsin Tavern League President Rob Swearingen says that a large percentage of calls from members involve what they can do to build outdoor structures.

Across the state, the ban has had some hard-hitting effects.  Swearingen says that some state establishments are reporting losses of between 40 and 60 percent compared to a year ago.

"We were told that people would be flooding these locations once the smoking ban went into effect; that the non-smokers would come out," Swearingen says. "But we haven't seen that across the state. It's a big concern of our membership."

"Mom and pop" taverns, especially those that don't serve food, have been hit the hardest. Swearingen points to other states, like Minnesota, where after an initial dip, business recovered to levels close to those before the ban.

But if the initial decline is big enough, it could force some establishments to close before things have a chance to turn around.

"We've had some scares," Swearingen says. "There have been some very sad and dire calls and emails from people saying this is killing them. It's so frustrating; we hope they can survive the initial dip."

Also causing difficulty is the difference in community enforcement. Some municipalities have chosen to enforce the ban more strictly than worded under the state law, though such behavior is strictly forbidden under the ban's language.

"You'd think these municipalities would want to work with taverns and not interfere with their business," Swearingen says.