Smoking ban debate continues 3 years into enforcement

MEQUON (WITI) -- Three years after the enforcement of a statewide smoking ban, bar and restaurant owners share mixed feelings about the law.

Bob Hitchcock, co-owner of Spanky's Hideaway in Mequon, is a smoker himself -- who believes lighting up outside is for the best.

"As far as cleanliness and everything else, and food and everything, we like it -- the fact you cannot smoke," said Hitchcock.

Spanky's opened just a few months after the smoking ban took effect on July 5th, 2010. At the time, owner's worried the ban might keep their bar from getting off the ground.

"We were actually nervous at the beginning because we were afraid it was going to affect our business," said co-owner Mary Moran.

Three years into the smoking ban, the Tavern League of Wisconsin says it's heard numerous complaints from bar owners who say the ban has hurt their business.

"What my members are telling me, initially, we had sales drop 20, 30, 40 percent. I don't think our members have ever recovered from that, in fact, I know they haven't," said Pete Madland.

Health First Wisconsin says, on the whole, bar and restaurant sales have increased since the ban took effect, citing sales receipts from the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

The co-owners of Spanky's believe they're better off keeping smokers outside, but say they're not sure the state went about it in the right way.

"I still feel, quite honestly, that it should be our decision and our right to allow it or not allow it, but the fact remains the law was passed and we have to deal with it," said Moran.

Health First Wisconsin says economics aside, the smoking ban improved conditions inside state bars -- citing a study done by UWM that showed during the first year of the ban, bartenders reported fewer respiratory problems like wheezing, coughing, and sore throats.