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Ashtray of the Midwest

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  • The Smoke Free Milwaukee Project released a report last Thursday showing poor indoor air quality in bars and restaurants
  • The SFMP strives for smoking ban legislation similar to neighboring states
  • Results showed that 69 percent had hazardous air quality, and only 9 percent good quality
  • Opposition is worried that legislation will affect business

Health officials and TV commercials warn about the dangers of secondhand smoke, but the Smoke Free Milwaukee Project of Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin brought new light to the issue by releasing a study last Thursday reporting hazardous indoor air quality in Milwaukee bars and restaurants.

The SFMP supports a smoking ban in all workplaces, according to Clarene Anderson, public relations specialist for Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin. She said the goal of the report is for smoke-free legislation similar to that in Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa.

"(Wisconsin is) the ashtray of the Midwest," Anderson said.

The study was an overall six-month process based on air samples taken at 32 establishments throughout the city between Nov. 7 and Dec. 6. The establishments, unnamed in the report, were unaware that the air quality was being tested, Anderson said.

The report showed that 69 percent had hazardous air quality, 6 percent very unhealthy, 13 percent unhealthy and 3 percent had unsafe air. Only 9 percent indicated healthy air quality, which all of which were smoke-free establishments.

Anderson said the results did not surprise her and that more studies are needed to force change. She said the only way to improve the air quality is to ban smoking in the establishments, which is tough due to opposition from bar and restaurant owners.

"Bars and restaurants are afraid of losing clientele," Anderson said. "But it's a weak proposition because it hasn't been proven."

She said business remains steady in other areas with a smoking ban.

Bar and restaurant owners say it's the people's choice of whether or not they expose themselves to the atmosphere, but customers are actually forced to secondhand smoke environments since very few smoke-free establishments exist, Anderson said.

John McCabe, owner and general manager of the Milwaukee Ale House, 233 N. Water St., said smoke-free legislation would not affect business. Although the Milwaukee Ale House currently allows smoking in the bar and prohibits it in the dining room, McCabe said he would like to see a ban put in place even though he is a smoker.

But McCabe said it would have to be a law to work. He said business is hurting for a few establishments that have voluntarily banned smoking.

"I don't think it's a wise move to alienate anybody right now with today's economy," McCabe said.

The report showed that dance bars are the unhealthiest because of the high secondhand smoke concentration and customers' physical exertion. And due to thirdhand smoke, which is contamination that remains after a cigarette has been extinguished, the air quality doesn't improve after the last cigarette is extinguished.

"It especially affects the employees who have to be there all day," bartender Anthony Stanley said. "It's a lack of respect for people who don't want to be around smoking."

Stanley, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, works at TGI Friday's Front Row at Miller Park and has been bartending off and on for two and a half years. He said he accepts the smoky atmosphere because there's nothing he can do about it.

Stanley said the health concern is in his mind, but he hates smelling like smoke all day and after work. He said he would take a small pay cut or travel farther to work if it meant working in a smoke-free environment.

"Most bar owners want what the customers want," said Jonathan Newby, marketing and promotions intern for Murphy's Irish Pub, 1613 W. Wells St., and Caffrey's Pub, 717 N. 16th St. "And if a ban is what the customers want, then so be it."

He said the only way bars would initiate a ban would be due to city or statewide legislation. Due to the large number of bars in Milwaukee, Newby said owners don't want to do anything to push customers out.

Newby said he thinks that the ban will affect customers who smoke but will not slow business.

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