Assembly votes to make it easier for bars to offer smoking areas after ban

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On the last day of the session, the State Assembly voted to make it easier for bars to offer outdoor smoking areas once the statewide ban takes effect in July.

The assembly voted to change the regulations just slightly. With the changes, so-called smoking rooms built at taverns need to have open windows on two walls to qualify as a smoking area.

Opinions still differ on whether this is just a loophole to the ban, but an area tavern owner says she's adding on in order to keep her smoking and non-smoking customers happy.

In July, smokers won't be able to light up inside a public place anywhere in Wisconsin.

"Smoke-free air is the healthiest environment because tobacco smoke causes lung cancer and respiratory illnesses, asthma issues," Chippewa County Public Health Director Jean Durch said.

Durch says the ban is a step in the right direction for the state.

“We want to protect both the public who frequent these places and the employees there," she said.

But some business owners say people should be able to decide for themselves whether to go into a smoky bar.

"I think it's unfortunate the government's going to make the choice for us. But I know there are a lot of non-smoking customers that are going to be very happy about it and some of the staff as well," owner of Happy Hollow in Altoona, Judi Malone said.

While she's not in support of the ban, Malone says she's trying to make the best out of a bad situation by adding on a smoking area.

"It should be just like a huge screen porch with lots of air coming through and in the winter we can close it up just a little bit more but still leave lots of air space," Malone said.

She says the new rules will make it a little easier for bar owners to keep everyone happy. Malone says she wants to see every bar be successful and the statewide ban may bring more customers back to Eau Claire bars already under a ban.

She plans to start construction on the addition May 1st.

The smoking ban officially takes effect in Wisconsin on July 5th.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin lawmakers have approved a bill that will make it easier for bars to offer outdoor smoking areas for customers after the statewide smoking ban goes into effect in July.

The Assembly voted 60-33 early Friday for the bill sought by the Tavern League of Wisconsin, a powerful lobbying group that represents bar owners.

Rep. Mary Hubler, D-Rice Lake, says the bill will help taverns have patio areas with open windows where smokers can light up "in the dead of winter when it is 30 below."

The measure modifies the definition of unenclosed areas where smoking will be permitted.

Under the ban approved last year, a smoking room had to have at least two walls with openings that allow air in from the outside and were at least 25 percent of the walls' surface. Under the change approved Friday, rooms with open windows on two walls would qualify.

The bill now heads to Gov. Jim Doyle.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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