The Wisconsin Restaurant Association (WRA) board of directors voted recently to support a statewide workplace smoking ban that does not exempt bars or bar areas in restaurants.
The association has always defended a business owner's right to make their own decisions. However, the current patchwork of local smoking bans is a problem for the restaurant industry as it puts hundreds of restaurants at an unfair disadvantage.
There are 30 local smoking ban ordinances in Wisconsin. As a result, there are hundreds of restaurants in the situation where they may lose customers to restaurants just outside the smoking ban area or to taverns who may be exempt from a smoking ban ordinance.
When it comes to regulation of smoking, the WRA's goal has always been to achieve a level playing field for everyone in the foodservice industry.
There are only two paths to a level playing field on smoking: one is no regulation, and the other is a complete ban. Anything in between unfairly creates winners and losers, with government regulations determining which businesses survive and which flounder.
Given the proliferation of local ordinances in the state of Wisconsin, the WRA's board has voted to support a workplace smoking ban. We feel that this is the only way to create a fair competitive environment for all eating and drinking establishments in Wisconsin.
In his "State of the State" address, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle raised the stakes with his push for a total workplace smoking ban. WRA will, of course, need to look at the details of what is proposed when a bill is drafted.
The WRA board vote was 36-1, but it was not an easy decision to make. The board struggled with this issue but ultimately decided that a statewide smoking ban was going to be the best option for the foodservice industry in Wisconsin.
WRA will not support a statewide workplace smoking ban that exempts bars or bar areas of restaurants. The problem with exempting bars from a smoking ban (often defined as having more than 50 percent of sales from alcohol) is that this puts restaurants at a distinct disadvantage compared with bars that may serve a lot of food and can still allow smoking.
Many of our board members are bar owners and voted that the association should support a statewide workplace smoking ban with no exemption for bars or bar areas. More and more, WRA members see a statewide ban as the only way to level the playing field.
The number of restaurants in Wisconsin that have gone non-smoking on their own has steadily increased for the last 20 years. Many have reduced their smoking sections to only a few tables or eliminated smoking in their dining areas altogether. Others have completely banned smoking already.
The WRA remains staunchly opposed to local smoking bans and will continue to fight in that arena. Given the trend of local smoking bans being enacted throughout the state, a statewide ban is the only way to have a competitive environment where one business doesn't have an unfair advantage over another.
Ed Lump is president and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association. Additional information is available at 800-589-3211 or www.wirestaurant.org.