Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Fate of smoking ordinance decided tonight

Trent Kraemer is one who holds a great deal of stake in tonight’s common-council vote on an ordinance that could eliminate smoking from a significant number of bars in the downtown area.

Kraemer, owner of Vintage Bar & Grill, believes smaller, struggling establishments have been overlooked by city officials supporting the ordinance. He is confident the Vintage, which falls into the category of establishments that would be affected, would be out of business months after the smoking ordinance goes into effect.

“It definitely is a very scary thing,” Kraemer said of the proposed ordinance. “I haven’t slept much recently.”

Kraemer said his new business lacks the financial security to withstand such a ban.

“We’ve only been open for three months, so we’re struggling to get our business up and off the ground. If we lose any percentage of our business, it would really hurt.”

Kraemer claims the Vintage would lose customers to nearby bars that would be permitted to host smokers.

“It gives competitors an unfair advantage to other bars that won’t be among those affected,” Kraemer said. “The city should keep their nose out of it.”

Under current Wisconsin state law, smoking is prohibited in any restaurant, which a 1992 Madison city ordinance defines as an establishment serving or preparing food while obtaining less than 33 percent of its revenue from alcohol sales. The new ordinance, if passed, would increase to 50 percent the amount of revenue from alcohol sales an establishment must take in order to qualify as a bar.

In addition, the ordinance would ban smoking at free-standing bars in restaurants and in separately ventilated smoking rooms in restaurants.

Alds. Jean MacCubbin, District 11, Gary Poulson, District 10, and Paul Van Rooy, District 18, drafted the proposal, which has been backed by Mayor Sue Bauman.

The proposal, made public Aug. 16, was approved by the Public Health Commission Sept. 9.

Jean Dye, a registered nurse and member of the Public Health Commission, was pleased with the commission’s approval, and she is hopeful the common council votes to pass the ordinance.

“Research has pointed out that secondhand smoke is dangerous to your health,” Dey said. “Smoking contributes to heart disease, cancer and bronchitis.”

However, Dye emphasized that outlawing smoking was not the commission’s aim.

“We do not want to stop people from smoking,” Dye said. The fundamental issue at hand, she said, is smoking in the workplace, which she said puts some people, especially employees at restaurants that double as bars and allow smoking, in situations hazardous to their health.

“People who work in restaurants ought not to be exposed to smoke unwillingly,” said Dye. “It’s like that in other lines of work, such as many office jobs in Madison.”

State Street Brats, the Great Dane and the Nitty Gritty are among bars that stand to be affected by the ordinance.

“It’s frustrating,” Marsh Shapiro, Nitty Gritty owner, said of the proposed smoking ordinance. “For me, it’s not even a business issue. It’s a choice issue.”

Shapiro was one of around a dozen local bar and restaurant owners who spoke up against the ordinance when it was proposed at the common council’s Aug. 16 meeting. The Nitty Gritty collects approximately 48 percent of its revenue from alcohol sales.

Yet Ira Sharenow, a leading anti-smoking activist who helped to pass a 1992 smoking ban on the UW campus, insists Shapiro and others exaggerate the extent to which their bars might suffer; he says the ordinance would “level the playing field” on which bars compete with one another for business, and that the restrictions are modest compared with steps other states have taken in order to curb smoking. These states include California, Florida and Delaware, which have all banned smoking in bars.

“Tens of millions of people benefit from healthier smoking laws than those in Wisconsin,” Sharenow said.

While many establishments in California have dealt with the restrictions by adding outdoor areas for patrons to smoke, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, points out that Wisconsin’s fierce winters make a similar effort here unlikely to be successful.

Alds. Linda Bellman, District 1, and Tom Powell, District 5, have both expressed mixed feelings towards the proposed ban and uncertainty in which way they will vote tonight.

Powell believes that some key players involved in the debate surrounding the ordinance have forgotten just who the legislation was designed to protect — employees.

“Patrons can go somewhere else to evade smoking,” he said. “It’s an issue for employees who face serious exposure levels, working eight-hour shifts in a bar every day.”

Powell also identified his concern for student workers.

“When you’re a student, it’s tough to find a good job,” he said. “Bars and restaurants pay pretty well, and if you need the money, it’s sometimes your only option.”

“You quit the job, or you deal with the smoke,” Powell said.

Bellman said she is alarmed at the trend she says smoking legislation has followed.

“I don’t believe the smoking ordinance would spell disaster for bars, but it’s the incremental approach I’m worried about,” Bellman said, referring to an ordinance passed by the common council a decade ago, establishing the current percentage of 33 percent as the maximum revenue an establishment could collect from alcohol and still be considered a restaurant and allow smoking.

Verveer, too, while not an advocate of smoking, is opposing the ordinance, because he is disturbed by the trend he sees developing, which he foresees producing an outcome further down the line that would see the expansion of increasingly tight smoking restrictions on bars.

“If this ordinance is passed, it is only a matter of time before the city comes after every bar, banning smoking across the board,” he said.

To contact your representative, visit the city of Madison website at

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