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Majority backs ban on public smoking Rapids, Marshfield follow different paths to referendum By Matt Conn Marshfield News-Herald Nearly 65 percent of Marshfield residents support an ordinance to ban smoking in restaurants, according to a Wood County Health Department telephone survey released Monday. In its push to inform the public of potential second-hand smoke health consequences, the department is gauging attitudes toward smoking in Marshfield after a similar effort in Wisconsin Rapids. "The stage that we're at right now, we're finding out how the community feels, finding out how the City Council feels, different business leaders, we're trying to see if they actually want an ordinance," said DaNita Carlson, Wood County tobacco prevention specialist. "If the community wants clean air in Marshfield, that's the point we're at now." From 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on two separate days in June, 392 Marshfield residents 18 and older were asked up to 24 questions about their smoking histories and their attitudes toward smoking. According to the survey, 81 percent of Marshfield residents do not smoke, but 44 percent had smoked at least one cigarette daily for 30 days in their lifetimes. About 75 percent of the smokers surveyed said they are trying to quit. And 43 percent of Marshfield residents surveyed would eat out more often if a restaurant restricted smoking. The survey has a 5 percentage point margin of error. Those surveyed ranged in age in the following manner: 8 percent were 18 to 24, 10 percent were 25 to 34, 26 percent were 35 to 49, 24 percent were 50 to 64 and 32 percent were 65 and older. In 1993, The Kitchen Table became Marshfield's first restaurant to ban smoking, and since then the restaurant has attracted more customers, said owner Lloie Schwartz. "We have no cigarette butts and no fire in the wastebaskets, and it doesn't smell. The waitresses are happier and they don't go home with smelly clothes," Schwartz said. "The business didn't get worse, it got better. Those who smoked went to other places." Schwartz said the decision was her own. "I don't believe in an ordinance. I believe the market should drive the decisions of the owners," she said. "I'm not for lots of laws, you know what I mean?" Al Kwitek lives in Neillsville and works at Thrivent Financial in Marshfield. Kwitek, a 49-year old nonsmoker, said he would support a ban on smoking in restaurants in either city. "Absolutely, you bet. I think it's nice for nonsmokers to be able to go into a place and not be able to smell or deal with smoke," he said Monday. When 36-year-old Chad Skinner of Marshfield dines out, he seeks nonsmoking restaurants. "I don't think people should be able to smoke in public places at all," he said. But the restaurant should have the final decision on its own policies, he said. "If people don't abide by the restaurant's rules, then maybe then there should be an ordinance," Skinner said. Though she quit smoking about 21 years ago because, "health is more important than smoking," 48-year-old Joyce Harder of Marshfield said she would not support an ordinance to ban smoking in restaurants. "Actually, I think it should be up to the restaurants. I feel they're obviously going to have less patrons," she said Monday. "They should definitely have a smoking area and good ventilation in the area." Individuals should be allowed to run their own lives, though hopefully they make healthy choices, she said. "I think there's way too much government involvement in our lives. There's too much Big Brother in our lives," Harder said. In southern Wood County, the health department reported, among the 423 Wisconsin Rapids adults surveyed, nearly three of four favored prohibiting smoking in restaurants, and two out of three said smoking should be forbidden in workplaces. About 80 percent surveyed classified themselves as nonsmokers. In its Aug. 3 meeting, the Wisconsin Rapids Common Council deadlocked, 4-4, on a proposed ordinance that would ban smoking in restaurants that generate less than half of their annual gross receipts from the sale of alcohol. Mayor Jerry Bach broke the tie, voting against the ordinance after explaining that he would rather reach a compromise with the affected businesses. In about six months, the ordinance may return, a decision that will rely on Bach's progress, Carlson said. But the Marshfield campaign will differ in its approach. Former Wisconsin Rapids Common Council member Peter Gokey pushed the ban after being diagnosed with lung cancer, though he quit smoking more than two decades ago. "Everything in Rapids really happened a lot different than in any other community," Carlson said. "Most build grassroots support, and it's a slow process. We'll see if there's support in the community for clean indoor air. If there is, we'll move forward with a campaign." Wausau might have a referendum. Attorneys for the city will help fashion the question for the Nov. 2 ballot. The City Council must decide at its meeting Wednesday whether it wants the referendum on the ballot and, if so, how it would be worded in order to print the ballots and make them public on time.

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