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Judi Zabel finds most La Crosse area bartenders like working in a smoke-free bar.

Zabel, who talks to bartenders as coordinator of a La Crosse area smoke-free coalition, said she hasn’t received any negative comments from bartenders about Wisconsin’s smoke-free workplace law since it was enacted last July.

“Most bartenders like not being exposed to smoke all night long,” said Zabel, a health educator with the La Crosse County Health Department. “They tell us they don’t wake up with sore throats or coughing.”

Zabel’s experience with bartenders is supported by a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study released this week that shows Wisconsin bartenders report breathing easier since working in a smoke-free environment.

The study, which looked at upper respiratory health symptoms in bartenders before and after the smoke-free workplace law, found a 36 percent decrease in symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, waking up coughing and sore throats. The survey included 531 bartenders, including some from Tomah.

“It’s no surprise,” Zabel said. “That’s why we pushed for the smoke-free air laws to improve the health of workers and patrons. The study proves what we promised it would do.”

At a half-dozen La Crosse area bars owners said most bartenders like working in a smoke-free environment, but it doesn’t make much difference for bartenders who smoke.

Zabel said she was surprised that the study showed more rural bartenders liked the smoke-free workplace law than bartenders in larger cities.

Karen Palmersheim, the study’s lead researcher, said the findings were consistent with her previous studies, which showed reduced secondhand smoke exposure and decreased respiratory symptoms among bartenders after smoke-free workplace ordinances were enacted in Madison and Appleton.

University of Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center released a study in December showing a 92 percent air quality improvement in bars and restaurants following the law and another in January showing that local smoke-free ordinances had no economic effect on those communities’ local bar and restaurant industries.

“All these studies show this law was about improving the health of our worksites,” Zabel said, “and protecting the population hardest hit by secondhand smoke.”


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