NORTHWOODS - Taking a smoke break usually means going outside to have a cigarette. In Wisconsin, people don't have a choice.
Story By Stephen Goin
In 2009, the state assembly passed a law that made smoking tobacco products illegal in public places, at work or in any enclosed space with two or more "substantial" walls. A bipartisan group of state lawmakers introduced a bill last week to add vapor products and marijuana to that ban.
Sen. Andrè Jaque (R-DePere) and Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison), the authors of Senate Bill 245, say health risks linked to vaping, like lung and cardiovascular diseases, inspired the legislation.
A decade after the original smoke-free air law, some people still look back fondly at the days when smoking was allowed indoors. Rob Swearingen, the owner of The Al-Gen Dinner Club in Rhinelander, jokes that the air purifiers still installed over the bar at his restaurant are antiques even though they were used just ten years ago.
"Smoking … it was just part of a lifestyle back then," said Swearingen.
When the state of Wisconsin passed the indoor smoking ban, Swearingen's restaurant was already phasing it out successfully. The Al-Gen went from having a separate smoking and non-smoking dining section to only allowing smoking where alcohol was sold separately from food.
"I think that society kind of just dictated that smoking was on the downturn," said Swearingen.
But the Former Tavern League president, now a Republican state assemblyman, says other businesses, like standalone bars, didn't fare so well.
"Those places were impacted quite negatively, because that customer base [sic] drinking and smoking went together," said Swearingen.
Tom Simic, owner of Northern Lights Vapor in Tomahawk, says the proposed ban is a step too far.
"I think more than anything it amounts to once again governmental overreach," said Simic.
He says the ban would be hard to enforce because e-cigs are easy to conceal and that the reported health risks are exaggerated.
"If they would look up some of the reputable studies out there I think they'd find it to be a bit different," said Simic.
He believes a ban on vaping indoors should be at the discretion of business owners. Swearingen agrees, adding that the expanded ban could be a further hit to businesses in his district.
"To force the tavern around the corner to now go vape free doesn't seem like the right way to head," said Swearingen.
Simic says the bill won't stop his business, though. He's making sure his hard work doesn't go up in smoke, or in this case, vapor.
"We have helped in the last five years somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 hundred people quit [smoking]," said Simic. "I think that's a good service for the community don't you?"
SB 245 was introduced and referred to the committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection.
Another bill targeting vapor products was introduced in March by many of the same authors and cosponsors of SB 245. SB 73 would prohibit the sale of vapor products to minors.