Wisconsin finally has a workplace smoking ban. But will it be the last smoking ban?
Matt Wild: Well Steve, on July 5 the unthinkable finally happens: Wisconsin goes smoke-free. As a casual smoker—I only smoke when I’m out for the night, an admittedly nasty habit that looks like it’s going to be seriously curtailed—I have to say I’m a little disappointed. Yes, I know I’m already on the losing end of this argument, and that to suggest the upcoming ban might be a step in the wrong direction is to be met with looks of horror and plenty of shrill, sanctimonious lecturing. But leaving aside issues of health, freedom, and whether your khakis might smell faintly of smoke after eating a $60 brunch, my argument is simple: A smoke-free Wisconsin isn't Wisconsin at all.
For a state that prides itself on its no-nonsense, working-class heritage, we seem to be doing everything we can to eradicate that heritage. And yes, whether you like it or not, sucking down on a cig while sipping a beer at a shitty bar is part of that working-class heritage. It seems that unless our rough-and-tumble past is safely tucked away on a locally produced PBS special or in a commemorative coffee table book, folks cry foul and do everything they can to get rid of it. Sure, being able to light up a butt in a corner bar or in your neighborhood Olive Garden may not be our finest feature, but it is who we are, and it stays true to our blue-collar roots. Taking away that freedom just brings us one step closer to becoming another faceless, bloodless Midwestern backwater. Think Ohio, or—God forbid—Iowa. Put another way: The smoking ban will effectively "nerf" our entire state.
Steven Hyden: Congratulations, my friend: You just made the dumbest argument yet against the smoking ban. And that’s saying something! Let me drop some truth bombs on you: Between 1990 and 2006, the prevalence of smoking among adults in Wisconsin decreased from 25 percent to 21 percent. Not to question your self-appointed status as the Che Guevara of chain-smoking Wisconsin traditionalists—nice crack about the khakis!—but isn’t it a little disingenuous to assert that sucking down “cigs” in public places is part of what defines us as Wisconsinites when only one in five of us are inconsiderate enough to do it on a regular basis? Or are the other 80 percent of us just a bunch of ’sconnie poseurs?
Why are we even arguing about this? No matter what we say, the billowy clouds of cancerous smoke currently choking up our fine local drinking establishments will be gone in a few days. You know, just like they are in practically every other public space in Wisconsin. I know, I know, forcing people to walk 10 feet out the door in a bar and smoking outside is a hardship on par with the Trail Of Tears. But you’ll manage. It probably wasn’t easy for the cavemen when somebody had the bright idea to create designated areas for defecation. I’m sure there were editorials scribbled on cave walls about how the lack of human feces in community gathering areas meant the end of a defining characteristic of pre-historic society. But once it happened, I’m positive that people quickly came to appreciate not having to scrub dung off their feet any time they wanted to warm themselves by the fire. It’s called progress. More often than not, it’s a good thing.
I hate—hate—when smokers try to turn this into a debate about “culture,” or act as if pro-ban people are stuck-up yuppies too wimpy to withstand a little dose of toxins mixed in with their socializing. Look, I used to think smoking was fun and glamorous, too; then I turned 24. Think of it this way: When you’re outside puffing away in the middle of February, this whole “the man is trying to bust my cigarettes” thing will be a great conversation starter with your fellow “persecuted” parties.
Anyway, now that the ban is about to be put in place, don’t you think everybody is going to love it and maybe even feel a little silly that we didn’t do it earlier? Or are smokers going to be smarting about this for years to come?
Matt: Whoa, easy there sport. First of all, I prefer to think of myself as the Buddy Hackett of chain-smoking Wisconsin traditionalists, thank you very much. Second of all, my position may indeed be “the dumbest argument yet against the smoking ban,” but to tell you the truth, it’s all I’ve got. Look, I know in my heart of tar-blackened hearts that the ban is long overdue, and that clearing the air in our many fine restaurants and dive bars is a no-brainer. All I’m suggesting is that maybe it’s time we change our unofficial slogan from “Don’t Fuck With Wisconsin,” to “Don’t Fuck With Wisconsin, but if you do, please refrain from smoking because we prefer to socialize without sucking up all those icky toxins. Thanks!”
But leaving questions of our street cred aside, let me answer your question: Are smokers going to be smarting about this for years to come? No, but non-smokers will. Contrary to what you and other anti-smoke zealots think, smokers don’t see themselves as being “persecuted.” Of all the long-time addicts I know, absolutely none of them are upset about the ban, and most are more than happy to take their “coffin nails” outside. Non-smokers, on the other hand, still won’t be satisfied. The recent stink over a “potential loophole” in the anti-smoke bill—some nitpicky malarkey about what constitutes an “enclosed space”—has made it clear that what really gets non-smokers’ collective goat isn’t the smoke, but the smokers.
Want to talk about a Trail of Tears? I can’t wait until all the horror stories come flooding in from non-smokers about how they had to—brace yourself, Steve—walk past a clutch of dirty, disgusting smokers in order to get inside a bar. My God, they had to endure the smell of cigarette smoke for nearly three seconds, and even worse, had to look one or two of those disgusting human chimneys in the eye! The answer to this non-problem? More legislation, of course. State-wide smoking bans on doorways, outdoor patios, and surrounding streets and sidewalks are sure to be up next. Anything to protect the public from the harmful effects of smokers, er, smoke.
Wouldn’t you agree that this fight is far from over, and that it’s bound to get a little excessive? And at what point will it lose all semblance of being a public health issue and simply become a knock-down, drag-out—and completely manufactured—culture war? Can’t we all just get shit-faced together, in peace, like we used to?
Steven: Okay Matt, maybe I’m slightly more sympathetic to your argument. I get that smokers feel targeted by the majority of society that doesn’t indulge in their horrible, destructive habit. (Sorry! My anti-smoking zealotry has a mind of its own.) Maybe society is treating non-smokers a little unfairly; I just don’t feel the least bit bad about it. That’s because some smokers choose to publicly engage in an activity that they’ve been told repeatedly not only hurts themselves, but people around them. Unless you dispute the evidence that second-hand smoke causes cancer, it’s crazy to me to argue that innocent bystanders shouldn’t be protected from it (and, yes, them) in public places. I doubt you’d cut any slack to a corporation that dumps cancer-causing waste into a community’s drinking supply. Why do it here? Because it’s fun to smoke while downing a PBR?
You're probably right: This fight isn’t over. But I don’t think it’s excessive. Again, I call “bullshit” on smoking being equated with “culture,” or saying banning smoking in public places is tantamount to a “culture war.” At least smokers have a choice; in Wisconsin, non-smokers have been forcefully inserted into this smoking “culture” for far too long. And for what? For all of our snarky talk about socialist dictatorships and stinky khakis, the fact is that tens of thousands of Wisconsinites—smokers and non-smokers alike—are dead because of cigarettes. If forcing people to light up outside—or in their own homes—prevents thousands more from dying, well, I think that’s a worthy trade-off.
Can’t we all get shit-faced together? Of course we can! Drinking is a destructive behavior I can fully get behind because I can control my own personal alcohol consumption. And since you’ll no longer be smoking next to me in bars, I’ll gladly buy the first round for the both of us after July 5.