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Our View: Smoking ban has pros, cons - but is generally best for all

Most people in Wisconsin are praising the statewide indoor smoking ban that could be passed as soon as this week.

In fact, the majority of people in Wisconsin - about 70 percent - favor a smoking ban. On the other side of the coin, about 21 percent of the population still smokes, and those people see a ban as an infringement on a perfectly legal activity.

For the most part, a smoking ban will be a welcome addition for people who don't want to be bothered by the stench of smoke when they go out to dinner or for a drink. But many of those who oppose a ban want to be able to do those same things while enjoying a cigarette.

In the end, the majority ruled. And that is usually a good thing.

Under a compromise between the state and the state's Tavern League, the businesses will have until July 2010 to adjust.

Critics argue that the smoking ban is nothing more than "big brother" attempting to snuff out the rights of business owners. Proponents say a ban is necessary for the well-being of all people - especially non-smokers who are exposed to unwanted smoke. They claim smoking is a health hazard (both physically and financially).

At least a statewide law puts every business on a level playing field. Fortunately for Hudson-area businesses, Minnesota already has a ban in effect - there will be no running across the border to find a place to smoke in Minnesota. What could hurt Hudson businesses, however, is the potential loss of Minnesota patrons who run across the border to find a spot to smoke in Hudson.

But health should be the "bottom line."

It's not just patrons who are exposed to second-hand smoke - it's the many workers in establishments that allow smoking who are forced to inhale second-hand smoke every day. The ban should help reduce lost worker productivity and sick days that cost businesses an estimated $1.64 billion annually.

The American Lung Association's Wisconsin chapter says that state taxpayers pay nearly $500 million in annual Medicaid costs tied directly to smoking. Indirect costs are probably much, much higher.

Twenty-five states, including neighboring Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois, have passed smoking bans. Wisconsin's law starts 90 days after Gov. James Doyle signs it; taverns have more than a year to adjust. The ban will not involve cigar/tobacco shops and Indian casinos.

In supporting the passing of a smoking ban a year or two ago, Doyle said Wisconsin had become the "ashtray of the Midwest."

It looks like the ashtray is being discarded forever!