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Our View: Smoking ban agrees with will of people
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If government is intended to reflect the will of the people, then the statewide ban on smoking in nearly all public places that is likely to be passed this week is good legislation.

Most polls that have been taken during the past few years have shown a growing majority of people supporting a smoking ban. A number of Wisconsin municipalities have instituted bans of their own while state government has debated the issue. And our state now is one of only 15 that does not have some sort of general statewide smoking ban.

That's all about to end.

With Democrats now controlling the Legislature, lawmakers are poised to send to Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle an approved smoking ban sometime this week - perhaps as soon as Wednesday. Clearly, this is what a majority of the people of Wisconsin want.

"Everyone knew something was coming," 27th District Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, said last week. Erpenbach was instrumental in brokering an agreement with the state's Tavern League that will end up being the legislative breakthrough smoking ban proponents have sought for months.

The law will ban smoking in any workplace, including bars and restaurants. The exceptions will include cigar bars and tobacco retail shops, as well as Wisconsin casinos because the Indian tribes who run them are sovereign nations.

The ban won't go into effect until July 5, 2010. Apparently smokers will have one last day of independence on the Fourth of July next year.

The lengthy delay makes little practical sense.

While lawmakers tout it as an opportunity to educate the public and businesses about the change, 14 months shouldn't be required. The reality is that the delay was the compromise that allowed the Tavern League to begrudgingly sign on.

While the will of the people is being done with this legislation, the smoking ban remains bad policy. It's a governmental overreach into personal decisions that should be made by individuals and business owners.

Bar and restaurant owners should be able to decide whether allowing smoking or prohibiting it is good for their own specific business. And citizens should be free to either patronize and avoid establishments that allow smoking. That's how government should work, or rather stay out of the way of free enterprise.

The good news is that recent studies suggest bars and restaurants might not end up getting hurt the way ban opponents have suggested. A March 2009 report by Indiana University's Center for Health Policy found that 47 of 49 studies concluded smoke-free regulations hadn't hurt the hospitality industry. In fact, most data suggests business gets better after a ban.

Let's hope that's the case.