The Wisconsin smoking ban: 11 months later
Last summer, A.V. Clubbers Steven Hyden and Matt Wild discussed the pros and cons of Wisconsin’s indoor smoking ban, which went into effect July 5, 2010. Hyden, a non-smoker, saw the ban as a long overdue necessity, while Wild, a casual smoker, saw it as an affront to the state’s working-class roots. Now, 11 months later, the two look back on their argument, and discuss the future of smoking in Wisconsin.
Matt Wild: Well Steve, a lot has changed in the past 11 months: A crazy, mixed-up kid named Scott Walker is governor; we have a new American Idol (I think); and both of us have new jobs. Oh, and Wisconsin restaurants and businesses are 100 percent smoke-free. So before everyone and their mother slaps together a mandatory “Wisconsin smoking ban: 1 year later” piece, I thought we’d beat them to the punch and revisit our 2010 smoking ban Crosstalk a few weeks ahead of time.
Looking back on our friendly little chat, it’s clear to me that not only did you win the argument, you more or less handed me my ass. My reasons for opposing the ban were shabby at best: It was antithetical to Wisconsin’s blue-collar image, its only purpose was to placate a bunch of brunch-going yuppies, blah blah blah. But now, lo these many months later, I can report that I’ve been happy with the ban. I don’t smell like death when I get home from a night of Milwaukee fun, my casual smoking habit has become even more casual, and having a smoke with my friends has become more of an event. It’s also nice to step out of a noisy bar and get a breath of fresh air, even when you follow it up with a breath of deadly carcinogens.
But before I get to my concerns about the future—and I have a few—I’d like to hear your thoughts on the nearly year-old ban. Have the past 11 months been everything you and your smoking-adverse minions—er, pals—hoped they would be?
Steven Hyden: You want to know my thoughts on the smoking ban? I don’t have any. It’s not something I think about anymore. When the law went into effect last summer, I probably took a moment to say, “Wow, it’s so nice not to have to breathe secondhand smoke in bars.” After that, it became instantly normal, and it hasn’t really crossed my mind until now.
Think of it this way: Being grateful that people aren’t smoking in bars now seems akin to being happy that all patrons are required to wear pants and not masturbate in public. Of course people wouldn’t be allowed to masturbate in public—you wouldn’t think to thank somebody for outlawing it until you were confronted by some poor guy who couldn’t control himself.
Looking back over the last 11 months, all the jackboot Communist dictatorship rhetoric coming from the anti-ban camp seems even more laughably ridiculous now than it did a year ago. We implemented a public-smoking prohibition and guess what? People got used to it pretty much as soon as it happened, including smokers. Our way of life was not threatened. Studies have shown that the ban hasn’t led to a mass shutdown of taverns across the state, nor have Wisconsinites turned into a bunch of uppity, top hat and tails-donning snobs now that this precious piece of supposed blue-collar culture has been shown the door. (That was your argument, right?)
All we did was make drinking establishments a little safer and a lot more comfortable for the vast majority of people. (Even smokers I know appreciate not having to suck down the exhaled toxic waste of their fellow nicotine junkies.) C’mon Matt, doesn’t it seem dumb in retrospect that we even had to debate this? Oh wait—you have “concerns.” Let’s hear ’em.
Matt: Does it seem dumb that we debated this issue last year, and are debating it yet again? Yeah, I guess it does. I agree that not being able to light up indoors now seems like the most natural (and sensible) thing in the world, and that last year’s “nanny state” hyperbole seems patently ridiculous. Like I said, I’ve learned to love the ban in the past 11 months. I’ll continue to love it, too, just as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.
Which brings me to my concerns. You may have heard about a little place called New York, New York that recently enacted an outdoor smoking ban. (A city so nice it banned smoking twice!) Not only is it illegal to smoke indoors, it’s now illegal to choke down a quick cig in a park, a beach, or a “pedestrian plaza” like Times Square. The way I understand it, this is to prevent the public from having to walk past a smoker and catch a quick whiff of smoke. Are we now legislating against fleeting nuisances? Doesn’t a nearly 100-percent ban of a legal product seem, I don’t know, a little crazy?
But hey, I don’t want to go all “jackboot Communist dictatorship” on you. Do I think Milwaukee is headed for a New York-style ban any time soon? Probably not. But—and this is a big “but”—I have a sneaking suspicion that a smoking ban in our many lovely outdoor patios is around the corner. With summer finally upon us, many non-smoking bar patrons will be looking to enjoy some quality outdoor drinking time, and I can almost hear the bitching and moaning when they’re forced to share the same general space with smokers. At the very least, designated smoking and non-smoking sections in outdoor patios seems likely.
Again: Doesn’t this seem a little crazy? Do you think an outdoor ban is in Milwaukee’s future? And—heaven forbid—will we be having this conversation yet again in 2012?
Steven: I’m fine with the current detente—let the smokers have their patios, their doorways, their dark and skanky alleyways. HOWEVER, if they were to put an outdoor smoking ban on the ballot, I would affirmatively vote the shit out of it. Because I don’t think people have a “right” to smoke in public places. Smoking is basically a more dangerous and less funny form of farting and, I’m sorry, but I don’t have a problem with requiring smokers to let it rip into their own couch cushions at home for a change.
You know what else is a legal product? A car stereo. And yet if you blast it loud enough, you will be ticketed for disturbing the peace. You can be ticketed for playing a stereo too loud in your own home, if the hour is late enough. Loud stereos won’t kill passersby, but we as a society have ruled that they are fucking annoying, and sometimes the police have to get involved in order to keep a-holes from being such a-holes all the time.
That’s really the crux of the matter, Matt. You keep trying to turn this into a class issue, with intolerant non-smokers cruelly persecuting smokers because they can’t bear to see even one ash land on their top hat and tails. Please! This is about common courtesy, and some smokers had to be legally forced to comply with it. You bitch about the bitching of non-smokers, but is complaining about smoking really worse than an activity that’s been scientifically proven to harm other people? That’s what I don’t get about smokers who get all high and mighty about their “right” to smoke in public. Don’t you people feel bad about hurting (or, at the very least, irritating) almost every other person in your orbit? Does your need to smoke really supersede the feelings of the rest of the world? Really? Pardon my French, but you guys need to get the fuck over yourself. Non-smokers won the war, okay? Join us or die.