A funny thing happened the last time I visited my parents in their northern Minnesota town. My sister and I wanted to go out to sing karaoke at a bar, but they had all shut down. The great Minnesota smoking ban of 2007 had run them all out of business.

The same thing when I had a girls weekend in Minneapolis a few months ago. We wanted to have a night out on the town, but not a single bar had survived the ban. A metropolitan area of nearly three million with nary a place to go out for a beer.

Of course, that's not true.

People who like to go out to bars were still going out to bars, because many, many bars were still open. They were just a lot less smoky.

When the statewide workplace smoking ban goes into effect in Wisconsin July 5, I predict the same thing will happen here.

The ban passed the Legislature after political finagling on the part of Gov. Jim Doyle that forced even the Wisconsin Tavern League to negotiate its final form.

It's an issue of public health, but it's also an issue of fairness. Municipal smoking bans were making it hard for bars whose customers were more loyal to their cigarettes than to their favorite watering hole: They could just go to the next town over and spend their money at a smoky bar there.

Now every employer in the state will have to follow the same rule, which amounts to, "You can't smoke inside, you can smoke outside."

It's predictable, yet still baffling, the outrage and fury on the part of smokers and bar owners over this legislation.

Even if you don't remember 40 or 50 years ago, all you need to do is watch an episode of "Mad Men" to see how much cigarette smoke used to cast a haze over our communities - in our workplaces, our schools, our hospitals, our restaurants and, to a much greater degree, our homes.

Times have changed, for the better, and they'll continue to change. Those who argue that this kind of legislation will lead to a "slippery slope" against smokers seem to be in great denial that we are already at the bottom of that slope.

Sure, there are some who will just choose to stay home and drink and smoke alone. Others will put up with going outside for smoke breaks when they're out on the town.

 

 

But I'm willing to bet bars and restaurants will also get new customers who previously didn't want to smell cigarette smoking wafting over their meal, or to have to launder their reeking coat after going out to see a friend's band play at a bar downtown.

I know you can count me among them.

I've never smoked, not only because I lost a grandfather too young to lung cancer, but also because I have an allergy to it - my eyes get bloodshot, my head throbs, I cough. For that reason I've never worked in a bar or restaurant that allows smoking. That was a choice I could afford to make, but a choice many others can't afford.

I'm a small business owner, so I can understand the inclination for employers to say, "It's my business, I can run it the way I want." But really, of course, you can't. You need to meet health department inspections for the safety of your customers, and OSHA requirements for the health and safety of your employees.

It's those employees that this workplace ban protects, and like mountains of evidence on the danger of cigarette smoking, the proof of that protection is out there.

As one example, a University of Minnesota researcher studied 24 non-smokers who worked at restaurants, bars and bowling alleys across the state that permitted smoking before the ban was enacted.

The scientist tested the participants' urine prior to the statewide ban for nicotine and a carcinogen linked to lung cancer, then tested between four and nine weeks later, after the ban took effect.

The levels of nicotine and carcinogens in their bodies were reduced by more than 80 percent. For these non-smokers, the ban was a breath of fresh air.

Yes, some people will stop going to the bars when the Wisconsin ban takes effect. Or at least threaten to.

But I bet there will be just as many holding the door open for the boycotters on their way out, ready to come inside and get some fresh air.

Christina Beam is a former education reporter for the News Republic. She can be reached at Christina@christinabeam.com