Tavern League Looks for Exemption on Eau Claire Smoking Ban

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"It has hit them very hard. Some of them are down 70 percent,” says Eau Claire Tavern League President Sally Jo Bitzer.

Bitzer also manages the bar at Wagner's Lanes on Brackett Avenue.

She says before the smoking ban, the place was packed on a Saturday afternoon. Now, just a few loyal customers are left.

"People just aren't coming in, and sitting there and socializing and smoking a cigarette," she says.

Julie Johnson, the owner of the Five O'Clock club down the street says she's seen much of the same trend since the ban took affect in July. She also says she feels like the city’s taken her rights as a business owner away, by banning smoking. Both Johnson and Bitzer say the ban hasn’t attracted any new customers.

"When they first came out,” Bitzer says, in reference to the ban, “They said, ‘Oh, there’s so many non-smokers out there that don't come to the taverns because they don't want to be affected by the secondhand smoke.’ They're not coming."

So the tavern league has hired a lawyer, and plans to ask the city council for an exemption from the smoking ban for any business that makes most of their revenue off of alcohol sales.

City Council Member Dave Duax says no other city with a smoking ban grants bars an exemption, and says Eau Claire shouldn't either.

"I guess if we had any other hazardous chemical would we say, ‘oh we're going to allow you to have it, a hazardous chemical, in certain buildings if you choose to go in it’?" asks Duax.

Duax says he hasn't seen any actual statistics that show a two-month dip in business. Instead, he offers a different solution for bar owners pushing for the exemption.

"If you think it's discriminatory to have it in some municipalities and not in adjacent ones, go out there and make it a statewide ban, because it's coming," he says.

Duax says the city has not seen too many problems with bars complying with the smoking ban so far.

No word on when the Tavern League will be ready to petition the city for an exemption.

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