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EDITORIAL: Wisconsin should not be an island for smokers

There was a time when Wisconsin's hospitality industry feared the state would become a non-smoking island highly detrimental to business. In and near the border with Illinois and Minnesota, customers who wanted to smoke at dinner or at taverns wo...

There was a time when Wisconsin's hospitality industry feared the state would become a non-smoking island highly detrimental to business. In and near the border with Illinois and Minnesota, customers who wanted to smoke at dinner or at taverns would migrate to those states, they argued.

Wisconsin did become an island, but not the one expected or feared. Surrounding states have enacted anti-smoking legislation, but Wisconsin, except for a few communities, is the one place it continues to be allowed.

Monday, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a comprehensive statewide smoking ban, which will take effect Jan. 1. It prevents lighting up at workplaces and indoor public areas, including bars, restaurants, casinos and bowling alleys. Minnesota's law, which also forbids smoking in all indoor public places, will take effect Oct. 1.

This obviously changes the playing field. Although Michigan is yet to enact an anti-smoking law, the popular argument about losing business to surrounding states no longer holds water for the vast majority of Wisconsin's hospitality trade. So the debate has become much narrower -- preserving personal rights versus protecting non-smokers from dangerous second-hand smoke.

Therefore, the decision becomes much easier. Protecting health is more important than allowing a practice that science has repeatedly shown to be dangerous -- not only for the participant, but for innocent bystanders. Although this country is built around the guarantee of personal freedom, it must not be harmful to others.

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Wisconsin lawmakers should move forward with legislation designed to best ensure its residents are protected from this health hazard. Those who wish to smoke may continue to do so -- but in places where they will not harm others.

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