Mixed Reaction to Possible Statewide Smoking Ban

By: Michelle Riell Email
By: Michelle Riell Email

The governor's proposal to ban smoking statewide is stirring up emotions around the state. Some bar owners, patrons and city leaders have mixed feelings about whether it would help or hurt Wisconsin.

A lot has changed since Wiggie's opened its doors nearly 25 years ago on Madison's east side. Co-owner Dave Wiganowsky says, "From about 11:30 a.m. to 1:00, 1:15, it used to be what we called the mad house here, you better be ready, have your tennis shoes on." But since the ashtrays came off the tables a year and a half ago, the customers are fewer and farther between. Wiganowsky says, "After the smoking ban, it just kind of fizzled right down, pretty much to a crawl." Wiganowsky says he's lost 30% to 50% of his revenue in any given month and is having to work 7 days a week. "it's not a little political play, you've taken my livelihood away, my job away, my right to compete," he says.

Business owners and patrons in border towns, like Beloit and Platteville, are also concerned about their livelihoods. Some in the western part of the state say this is a case of government going too far and that a smoke free Wisconsin could mean less tourism to border towns. Robert Downs lives in Platteville and says, "I think people should be able to chose for themselves whether they want to go into an establishment."

And now, Governor Doyle has introduced legislation that would ban smoking statewide and level the playing field. It's a proposal Fitchburg Mayor Thomas Clauder is in favor of, even though his city voted down a smoking ban nearly a year ago. "If the level playing field is level for everybody I couldn't be more satisfied," says Clauder.

Wiganowski says a lot of his patrons are already frequenting other establishments and he's afraid it could be too late for the damage to be undone. "It usually takes about a month to change a habit and people that have located to other place might say hey, well, I'll stay here. If I can't smoke here, why drive back to my establishment for example."

Another concern with the existing law is people may chose to drive further from home to dine at smoking establishments, which could lead to an increase of drunk drivers.

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