All over the world – wherever countries, states and communities are committed to people living longer and healthier lives – smoking cigarettes inside public places is ending.
We know which way history is going. It’s only a matter of time before the whole country goes smokefree. Clean indoor air saves money in health care costs, improves public health, and most importantly, it saves lives. The support for clean indoor air only grows in the places that enact smokefree laws.
Minnesota has been smokefree since October. Illinois went smokefree on New Year’s Day. In fact, nearly half the states in the nation have already acted to make their public places smoke free.
Here in Wisconsin, we have a patchwork of smokefree regulations, as dozens of municipalities go one way as their neighbors go another. Wisconsin restaurant and tavern owners deserve a level playing field that keeps people safe.
The Legislature should act now so that Wisconsin does not become the ashtray of the Midwest. I urge lawmakers to pass legislation that will make all public workplaces, including restaurants and taverns, smokefree on Jan. 1, 2009.
When I first proposed making Wisconsin’s workplaces smokefree, it was part of a strategy that stood on three legs. I’m proud to say we’ve accomplished two parts. We’ve raised the cigarette tax – helping smokers to quit and stopping others from ever starting – and we’re dedicating $30 million over the biennium to help people end their addiction to tobacco.
These steps are working. The number of smokers calling the quit line have soared. In the first week that the cigarette tax has been in effect this January, the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit line has gotten as many calls as it usually gets in a year – 9,000. And we’ve got the money in place to help these people succeed.
But it’s time to complete my strategy and require clean indoor air. Smokefree laws are proven effective. They further increase the number of smokers trying to quit. For those trying to quit, smokefree laws help smokers win the battle over tobacco addiction. Clean indoor air also reduces the number of cigarettes consumed and discourages kids from ever starting.
Throughout my entire career in public life, I’ve fought to protect our kids and our citizens from the dangers of tobacco. As Attorney General, I helped lead the national effort to take on Big Tobacco, beating them in court for the first time in 40 years. Cigarette billboards and vending machines are gone, and Joe Camel was sent to retirement.
We’re making progress in Wisconsin. Now the Legislature – with bipartisan support from Sen. Fred Risser and Rep. Steve Wieckert – has before it the opportunity to embrace the healthy direction the world is going. They have the ability to make Wisconsin smokefree – a step that will save money in health care costs, improve public health across the state and save lives.
It’s estimated that in one year alone, 8,000 people will die from smoking-related illnesses in Wisconsin. Five thousand kids try their first cigarette every day. Two thousand of them will become regular smokers, and one-third of them will eventually die from their addiction.
Wisconsin can act now and act responsibly, or it can go kicking and screaming, clinging to the old rules of cigarette smoke. The people of Wisconsin are ready for this. Wisconsin doesn’t want to wait two years to do what should already have been done. We want a clean smokefree law that doesn’t open loopholes or leave unfair advantages for tobacco companies.
Jim Doyle is governor of Wisconsin.