A year after a controversial statewide ban on smoking cigarettes in workplaces and indoor public areas took effect, smoke-free advocates and public health experts say it's too early to know precisely what effect the law has had on smoking cigarettes behavior in Wisconsin.

However, they predict forthcoming data will prove the law pushed Wisconsinites to adopt healthier choices.

"There's no question when the statistics come out sales of cigarettes will be down (and) there will be fewer people smoking cigarettes," said Patrick Remington, associate dean for public health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.

"(Previous) research has shown that there are two things that happen when you have a comprehensive smoking cigarettes ban. First, people smoke cigarettes less. There are just fewer opportunities to smoke. (Second), it reduces the percentage of smokers."

According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, nearly 1 million Wisconsinites smoke, a figure that has ticked down only slightly in the past five years.

About 8,000 people die in Wisconsin each year due to illnesses related to smoking cigarettes, most notably lung cancer and heart disease.

Remington thinks the statewide ban could be a catalyst that drives large numbers of Wisconsinites to quit smoking cigarettes.

"The big thing for the (law) is not so much that it went to the patrons of bars and restaurants, but that it went to workplaces," Remington explained. "That's where people spend eight or more hours a day … Many smokers would like to quit if it were easy to do so. A restaurant or workplace ban is for many of them the final push that helps them be successful in their attempt to quit."
'A roaring success'

Even as researchers await post-ban smoking cigarettes data, smoke-free advocates already are claiming victory.

"It has been a roaring success," said Connie Olson, executive director of Community Action for Healthy Living, a Kimberly-based nonprofit that monitors tobacco prevention efforts in northeastern Wisconsin.

The group is hosting a smoke-free anniversary party Thursday in Green Bay to celebrate the law's impact.

"The outcomes have been extremely positive," Olson said. "We have seen pretty good compliance throughout the state."

The state health department estimates that only 600 businesses statewide have had complaints filed against them in the last year.

"By far and large, this has been an overwhelming success," Olson said. "It has been accepted very well by most people."
Ban support grows

According to a June poll by Public Opinion Strategies, some 75 percent of Wisconsinites support the law, up from 69 percent who supported it in 2008 while the measure was up being debating in the state Legislature.

Gov. Scott Walker, who opposed the law during the 2010 elections, said last week that he would not support a repeal of it.

"Although I did not support the original smoking cigarettes ban, after listening to people across the state, it is clear to me that it works," Walker wrote in a statement.

But Pete Madland, executive director of the Tavern League of Wisconsin, which fought passage of the ban, called its impact on Wisconsin bars "lousy."

"It's not good," Madland said. "We've had many people close their doors, which we predicted. We knew it would cost businesses and cost jobs, and it definitely has."

Madland said his association has lost 170 members in the last year, though he stopped short of attributing the decline entirely to the ban.

"I'm not going to say that solely (caused the drop), but that's a major component," he said. "We saw a huge drop off immediately after the smoking cigarettes ban went into effect. Within two months people were complaining business was down anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent. We all know the economy's not where it should be either, but that immediate of a response I think is some kind of indication that it definitely has hurt."

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