Madison residents are developing strong opinions about the proposed smoking ban while City Council members solidify their voting decisions.
Ald. Todd Jarrell, District 8, recently decided to support the ordinance to ban smoking in restaurants with alcohol sales less than 50 percent of their total revenue. The decision came as a surprise to many, because Jarrell’s district contains several popular State Street bar/restaurants, such as State Street Brats, whose owner, Ross Johnson, has been vocal in his disapproval of the ban.
“The factor that decided it for me was the health report that most waitstaff are students, and several people who worked in smoky venues experienced bronchial problems,” Jarrell said. Jarrell?s constituency includes a significant number of both students and bars.
Ald. Jean MacCubbin, District 11, said she drafted the ordinance after learning that the affects of secondhand smoke are more severe than the council had previously known.
“Those exposed to secondhand smoke are two times more at risk for smoking-related illnesses,” MacCubbin said.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, secondhand smoke causes 3,000 lung-cancer deaths and at least 7500 infant hospitalizations per year.
An employee of Brothers said she is not bothered by the smoky atmosphere at the bar.
“I knew coming in [that] the smoke would be part of the job,” she said.
However, she said she agreed with the smoking ordinance.
“Smoking shouldn’t be a problem in bars, but restaurants are mainly for food anyway, so I wouldn’t disagree with the smoking ban,” she said.
Approximately 80 out of Madison’s 700 restaurants would be affected by the ordinance, including the Nitty Gritty, State Street Bar & Grill and the Great Dane. State Street Brats, a restaurant in Jarrell’s district, would also be affected.
Ross Johnson of State Street Brats said the choice to smoke should be the customer’s decision.
“We run a public accommodation, and we allow smoking only because people choose to smoke,” Johnson said.
He said State Street Brats saw an increase in revenue when the City Council passed the 1992 smoking ban in restaurants with less than 33 percent alcohol sales.
“Another push will drive these people elsewhere,” Johnson said. “It seems that if one wants to smoke in this town, one must have a bag lunch.”
However, MacCubbin said smoke-free restaurants never lost money after the 1992 smoking ban.
“Except for a short period of time right after the ordinance went into effect, their revenue actually increased 21 percent,” MacCubbin said.
Wando’s owner Jay Wanserski said although the smoking ordinance would not affect Wando’s, he disapproves of it.
“Most restaurants spend a lot of money on ventilation and separate smoking areas,” Wanserski said.
MacCubbin said in 1997 smoking was banned in all restaurants unless the business had a separate room for smokers. She said although restaurants spent between $9,000 and $16,000 on smoke separation, the rule should be overturned because the separation is not as effective as previously thought.
“The separation actually doesn’t clean the air, and a lot of the rooms don’t have doors and are not actually separate,” MacCubbin said.
MacCubbin said the council vote seems to be wavering between 11 and 13 supporters. The council needs 11 votes to pass an ordinance. The vote is set to take place at the council’s Oct. 1 meeting.