Gov. Jim Doyle signed Wisconsin's smoking ban into law on Monday, snuffing out a smoldering argument that for years had pitted anti-smoking advocates against bar owners and their patrons.
The Tavern League ultimately signed off on the ban, largely because it won't take effect until July 5, 2010. And even then, smoking would be allowed in outdoor seating areas. But for most bars, restaurants and other work places, smoking will be prohibited starting that Monday.
Anti-smoking advocates, including the American Cancer Society, struggled for years to find enough support in the Legislature to enact a ban. Supporters argued it was needed to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke.
But opponents, including the Tavern League, effectively blocked the measure, voicing concerns over the economic impact on the state's bars. They worried that barring smoking would drive away business.
As more communities enacted bans, nonsmoking bars more frequently were pitted against nearby bars where smoking was allowed. There were 37 such local bans in effect, including in Madison, Appleton and Eau Claire, by the time the Legislature last week passed the statewide law.
Doyle pushed for it for years, but could never bring together enough votes, or support, from the Tavern League to get it passed.
Under the law, the local bans remain in effect until the state one starts, but local governments would not be allowed to pass stricter regulations.
Even under the statewide ban, there are some places where smoking would still be allowed. Tribal casinos and existing cigar bars and specialty tobacco shops will not be subject to the ban. However, hotels could no longer offer rooms for smoking.
Violators would face fines of up to $250. Business owners who don't try to stop smokers would get a warning and then a $100 fine for subsequent violations.
Doyle first signed the bill in Milwaukee and also planned events Monday marking the occasion in Green Bay and Madison. He said the ban will save the state money in health care costs, improve public health and save lives.
Twenty-two states, including Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, already ban smoking in bars, restaurants and workplaces. Four more states - Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Virginia - will do so by the end of the year.