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Our View: Legislature playing with fire on smoking ban
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A statewide smoking ban got its first green light Tuesday afternoon, when a Senate committee voted 3-2 to pass a bill that would ban smoking in state workplaces starting next year, but would give bars and restaurants until 2010 to snuff out the smokes.

The state's crusade to ban smoking from all Wisconsin workplaces is well intended but wrong. The right to rule whether an establishment is smoke-free should rest with the business owner, not the state government.

Allowing bars and restaurants until 2010 to abide by the law is looked at as a compromise between anti-smoking groups who want an all-out ban and people who don't want bars and restaurants to be included in the bill.

Gov. Jim Doyle, who started the crusade for a statewide smoking ban last year, has said he wants the ban to take effect at the same time for everyone.

Doyle spokesman Matt Canter said the governor continues to support a unified start date for the ban like was done in Illinois and Minnesota. Doyle has said Wisconsin must follow suit to avoid becoming "the ashtray of the upper Midwest."

There was no sign of movement in the Republican-controlled Assembly. And even those who crafted the compromise say talks will continue.

There is no question that smoking is an extraordinarily unhealthy habit. So is drinking too much alcohol and eating too many cheeseburgers. That doesn't change the fact that it is not the government's role to legislate morality and health. Those are individual choices that should be left to individuals - and also to individual businesses, such as restaurants and taverns.

Last March, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association (WRA) came out strongly in support of a statewide workplace smoking ban that would include all restaurants, restaurants with bars and taverns. The vote of the Board of Directors was 36-1.

That is as sound of an endorsement as any about including restaurants and bars in the smoking ban right away. But it's also a reason not to pass the statewide smoking ban. The ban won't affect all restaurants the same way, and putting a blanket law on a variety of eating and drinking establishments is wrong.

Yes, it should be a mission in Wisconsin and nationwide to discourage smoking. But that should be done through education, not through limiting personal choices of where to eat, or enjoy a drink, or a cigarette.