Clearing the air over Sheboygan’s ordinance on indoor smoking and the state law that banned smoking in the workplace is proving to be a most involved process. We suspected there would be problems more than a year ago when lawmakers, just a few weeks before the smoking ban was to take effect, passed a law to “tweak” some of the provisions of the smoking ban. The changes not only opened the door for interpretation of what the Legislature meant by terms as “substantial” walls and even what constitutes an “indoor” area, but also unleveled the playing field for many bars and restaurants. Those facilities that did not have the space or the financial wherewithal to construct a so-called “smoking room” were left at a disadvantage.
Originally, the Legislature wanted to give bars and restaurants the ability to establish outdoor dining and drinking areas where people could also smoke. As near as we can tell, these areas were never designed to be considered “rooms” under the common sense definition and they were supposed to be additions to the building, not merely the cutting of a hole in a wall to let in outside air.
The Legislature, in an effort to remove ambiguity, decided to allow smoking in a room if at least two of its walls had openings to the outside covering at least 25 percent of the wall surface.
That’s a far cry from an open-air deck and it gave some bars and restaurants a leg up on the competition because these places had the money and space to build the “smoking rooms.”
Things became even more confusing after the Sheboygan Common Council came up with its own ordinance on smoking indoors, one that differed from state law and the administrative rules that went with it.
A recent check of the 10 establishments that constructed the so-called smoking rooms found eight of them not in compliance with either state law or the local ordinance.
As a result, the Common Council’s Public Protection and Safety Committee is attempting to come up with a new ordinance that will be clearer.
The panel may not by able to craft one that will make all existing smoking areas compliant, but the goal is to make things less cumbersome and clearer for bar and restaurant owners.
The Common Council took a step in that direction when it recently relaxed the city ordinance to bring it closer to what the Legislature passed in 2009.
Perhaps it would be best — for the time being — for the city to mirror to the state law and wait for the expected court decision on what constitutes an allowable indoor smoking area.
In any event, the city’s ordinance dealing with the smoking ban should not be more restrictive that state law.
We can appreciate the cost and hassle that many bar owners went through to create acceptable smoking area and now find that these rooms are not legal.
But the fault is not the city’s building inspectors or the plan commission. Approval of an addition or remodeling merely means that the work meets the city’s building codes and in no way constitutes an OK for an allowable indoor smoking area — whatever that might be.
The issue is the wording the Legislature added to what was a good idea — making all indoor workplaces smoke-free — and the confusion it has brought.