Smoke-related laws main topic at annual Legislative Breakfast
Students, legislators and health officials passionate about anti-smoking education got together Friday to discuss the possibility of enacting more smoking-related laws in the state.
Local elected officials, Fond du Lac School District students and tobacco control advocates gathered at the Fond du Lac County Tobacco Control Coalitionâ€™s ninth annual Legislative Breakfast held at the Fond du Lac Police Department.
Attendees were passionate about educating people on the dangers of smoking, adopting policies to eliminate smoking from public places and adopting a cigarette tax.
Several students, wearing T-shirts to promote their B-Free from Tobacco group, presented statistics about hazardous effects on smokers and those affected by second-hand smoke.
State Sen. Carol Roessler, state Rep. Carol Owens, state Rep. John Townsend and state Rep. Dan LeMahieu held a panel discussion, but disagreed on whether anti-smoking legislation is the way to reduce smoking.
LeMahieu, the only one of the four panelists who backed away from favoring more smoking-related legislation, said social pressure is a much better way to deal with the issue.
Panelists also discussed an increase in the state cigarette tax.
I support the increase in the cigarette tax, but thatâ€™s a very minority opinion in the Wisconsin State Legislature, Roessler said.
She said Gov. Jim Doyle needs to introduce a cigarette tax increase in his budget when the new legislative session begins.
I drafted the bill (for the cigarette tax), Owens said. We have to add a tax and use it.
At the open forum following the panel discussion, City Council President Steve Michels said he supports a cigarette tax.
Taxation on cigarettes is a user fee, he said. Iâ€™m for getting taxes increased on cigarettes. If you want to use it, pay for it.
Michels and council members Lindee Kimball, Mark Jurgella and Jim Sabel all said they supported proposing an ordinance that would help increase the amount of restaurants that do not allow smoking. Currently, the ordinance adopted in 1999 states that restaurants that get 33 percent or more of its sales from alcohol can allow smoking. Several council members and tobacco-control advocates want to increase the percentage to 50 percent, which would give fewer restaurants the ability to allow smoking.
Michels said he supports increasing the percentage as long as it doesnâ€™t negatively impact small-business owners. He said he expects the issue to be on the City Council agenda as a new ordinance or an amendment to the 1999 ordinance sometime in June.
Itâ€™s a policy that improves the health of the community, said Marian Sheridan, registered nurse, Fond du Lac County Tobacco Control Coalition member and school health programs coordinator for the Fond du Lac School District. Itâ€™s the right thing to do.
Community members and a local business were recognized at the event for their contributions to local prevention efforts, including former City Council member Jim Nintzel, David Gneiser of Fond du Lac Bumper Exchange, 16-year-old Morgan Sheridan and Mercury Marine.