As habits go, smoking has little to recommend itself. It
costs a lot of money. It makes you smell bad. Long-term, it wreaks havoc on
your lungs and raises your vulnerability to heart disease. Outwardly, it leads
to premature aging.

All pretty bad stuff, this smoking habit. And yet, there are
those who love it, for whatever reason, with many of them preferring to light
up at their favorite bar. This is their choice, and the state should not stop
them.

This is becoming an unpopular stance in Wisconsin, where a
smoking ban that would apply to all workplaces ? including taverns ? is
currently being debated in the state Legislature. Gov. Jim Doyle supports the
ban, as do 64 percent of state residents, according to a recent poll from the
Mellman Group and Public Opinion Strategies. Editorial boards throughout the
state (not The Badger Herald?s) have editorialized in favor of the ban.

In fact, even a paper outside of Wisconsin ? the Twin
Cities? Star-Tribune ? chimed in last week recommending their neighbor adopt
the ban. And it?s fortuitous they did, because in laying out their case for the
law, the Star-Tribune?s editorial board unwittingly made the perfect argument
against it.

The Star-Tribune editorial told the story of Randy Calleja,
who opened the bar Ready Randy?s in New Richmond, Wis. in 2006. He decided to
make Ready Randy?s a non-smoking establishment, a decision the newspaper claims
has led to ?hopping? business. ?We hear more positive than negative,? Mr.
Calleja told the paper.

Mr. Calleja voluntarily chose to pursue a certain business
model, and he was rewarded for it by quickly gaining a substantial customer
base. So, naturally, the government should coerce every other bar into
following his lead, thus taking away the smoking decision from other bar owners
and depriving Mr. Calleja of his competitive advantage, right? This is the
Star-Tribune?s logic.

Mr. Calleja is not a trailblazer in the tavern arena. Before
the city of Madison?s smoking ban went into effect in 2005, establishments like
Crave and Dotty Dumpling?s Dowry prohibited smoking on their own volition, not
the government?s. Those bar owners found it to be a profitable policy for their
businesses.

The reason for this is because of people like Harrison
Loveall of Appleton, Wis. Mr. Loveall is one of eight state residents featured
in a new radio ad campaign funded by the state ? yes, the state, the one
suffering from a $400 million revenue shortfall ? aimed at rousing up support
for a statewide smoking ban. On the campaign?s website, mysmokefreestory.com,
Mr. Loveall reveals he will not frequent establishments that allow smoking. One
of the campaign?s other featured Wisconsinites, bartender Jeff Sims of Madison,
says flatly, ?I would not work in a bar that allowed smoking.?

Messrs. Loveall and Sims support the smoking ban (that?s why
they?re in the ad campaign), but they?ve made their decisions to patronize and
work at certain businesses free from any government mandate. Randy Calleja was
aware that such people exist, as were the owners of Crave and Dotty?s. They
knew there was a market ? both in labor and consumers ? for bars free from
smoke.

There are those, though, who would tell us the market must
take a backseat to public health in the smoking debate, as if taverns ? the
places most affected by the ban ? have long been destinations of choice for
those on a wellness regimen. Nothing like burgers and booze for a health boost,
right? Complaining about smoke in bars is like complaining that Old Country
Buffet doesn?t utilize enough organic ingredients ? it?s just not the right
complaint for the forum.

One of the Legislature?s most vocal opponents of the smoking
ban, Sen. Roger Breske, D-Eland, said last week that health concerns about
secondhand smoke are ?hogwash.? This is wrong ? the science linking smoke,
including the secondhand variety, to health problems is clear. But lung cancer
doesn?t develop after a visit or two to a smoky bar. Smoke becomes a health
problem only if one makes the conscious choice to let it become a health
problem, by regularly and knowingly exposing oneself to it. If people?s minds
are too feeble to make or not make such decisions, there is a far more pressing
?public health? need that should be addressed in Wisconsin.

Most bars in the state would probably survive a smoking ban,
although not unscathed. With Illinois and Minnesota having already enacted bans
of their own, smokers would lack any other options. But it would still be a
horrible policy, one that is completely anathema to personal choice and
responsibility. Some of Mr. Breske?s arguments might be a tad unorthodox, but
his underlying effort to keep the government from ?sticking their noses into
everything? deserves applause.

Ryan Masse ([email protected])
is a first-year law student.