tocacco plant Native American Tobaccoo flower, leaves, and buds

tocacco Tobacco is an annual or bi-annual growing 1-3 meters tall with large sticky leaves that contain nicotine. Native to the Americas, tobacco has a long history of use as a shamanic inebriant and stimulant. It is extremely popular and well-known for its addictive potential.

tocacco nicotina Nicotiana tabacum

tocacco Nicotiana rustica leaves. Nicotiana rustica leaves have a nicotine content as high as 9%, whereas Nicotiana tabacum (common tobacco) leaves contain about 1 to 3%

tocacco cigar A cigar is a tightly rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco which is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the mouth. Cigar tobacco is grown in significant quantities in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Sumatra, Philippines, and the Eastern United States.

tocacco Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the fresh leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as an organic pesticide, and in the form of nicotine tartrate it is used in some medicines. In consumption it may be in the form of cigarettes smoking, snuffing, chewing, dipping tobacco, or snus.

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Smoking ban starts. Well, not completely

In the final weeks before the statewide smoking ban goes into effect, bar and restaurant owners, building inspectors and the police are finding themselves peering through a haze of unanswered questions regarding the new state law.

The landscape of Oshkosh bars and restaurants is changing as owners prepare to find ways to accommodate their smoking customers. About half already can or soon will be able to offer outdoor smoking areas. As they build these areas, businesses are forging ahead with projects that are based on the best information they have.

Wisconsin’s smoking ban goes into effect July 5. Its intent is to protect workers from smoke-filled environments. Smoking claims the lives of 8,000 in Wisconsin annually, according to Department of Health Services Secretary Karen Timberlake.

State lawmakers meant well but the law is so poorly created that no one knows which way to turn, said Allen Davis, director of community development for Oshkosh. The law prohibits smoking in certain “enclosed places” and then proceeds to describe those places in such a way as to leave everyone scratching his or her head.

The best advice Pat Purtell, president of the Oshkosh Tavern League, can give to bar and restaurant owners is to proceed with caution.

“Before building anything, talk to the city. They’ll come out and look at whatever you’re doing,” Purtell said.

Todd Muehrer, the city’s development review coordinator, sent a letter dated May 10, to all local liquor license holders encouraging those wanting to build patios and decks to accommodate smokers to begin the permit process with a review by the City of Oshkosh Site Plan Review Committee.

Plans are reviewed in joint sessions with personnel from planning and zoning, a building inspector, the police department, fire department, clerk’s office, public works and the health department. These outdoor smoking areas are not defined as such on the permits. They are referred to as assembly areas.

The Oshkosh Fire Department wants to see proper lighting and properly marked exits. However, the fact that people will be smoking in these areas should be kept in mind, said Fire Chief Tim Franz.

“If there is a wood deck there could be an issue of cigarettes falling into cracks,” Franz said. “Just because they are outdoors, the areas should be treated like indoors from a smoking standpoint.”

Last minute change confusing

Local code enforcers are able to apply general rules to local building projects, but the sticky wicket in Wisconsin Act 12 comes up where it defines an “enclosed place” as a structure or area that has a roof and more than two substantial walls. The legislature rushed through a change in the definition of substantial wall at the end of its last session, defining a substantial wall as a wall with no opening or with an opening that either does not allow air in from the outside or is less than 25 percent of the wall’s surface area.

This exemption to the smoking ban may allow people to light up in rooms in which a quarter or more of the walls are windows. Arguments could be made that a business with a room with four walls in which 25 percent of two of the walls is covered by windows that are cracked open does not constitute and “enclosed place,” or that a business with sliding glass doors and large windows on two of its four walls should be able to allow smoking when the windows and doors are open.

“The definition of substantial wall is not clear. There’s a big question mark as to how this will be applied,” Davis said.

Tavern owners have been calling Purtell with their questions. He’s at a loss to give them answers. They wonder if they can bring in small, portable enclosed rooms known commercially as Butt Hutts to set up in their parking lots, or whether they can have decks or patios with canvas tops. They question the meaning of the “enclosed place” loop hole.

“Go talk to the city. Don’t talk to the Tavern League,” he said.

Amidst the confusion, there is a sense of urgency.

“It’s a month away. If someone wants to put on an outside deck they need someone from planning and zoning to tell people stuff,” Purtell said.

Purtell has a nifty set-up at his establishment, called Terry’s Lounge at 688 N. Main St. He has volleyball courts out back with chairs and ashtrays for his smoking clientele. It works for now, but what about December? He wonders if he can use an indoor area where he has a stage if he sections it off and adds windows.

Purtell and some other local tavern owners spoke to city officials Wednesday and gained clarity on some of the issues. For example, they learned they can erect small sheds for smokers on their properties if they meet code.

Intent vs. interpretation

Progress has been made, but city officials say they can’t give answers they don’t have. Code enforcers want to help but they can’t instruct bar and restaurant owners in areas that are unclear to them, said Brian Noe, building systems consultant for the city of Oshkosh.

Under the new state law, communities are able to enact more stringent local ordinances to more clearly define the indoor areas in which smoking is prohibited. Oshkosh has not yet done so.

“If I was going to be disappointed in anyone it would be the Department of Commerce and the state legislators for not clearly stating how you meet the no smoking laws independent of all the other codes we have to follow,” Davis said.

Rep. Dick Spanbauer, R-Oshkosh, said the idea behind the law was to establish places for smokers that would be cut off from the regular establishment.

“There will be those who will look at any and all ways of getting around the law,” he said

Reported infractions will be looked at on a case by case basis and dealt with accordingly, said Winnebago Sheriff Michael Brooks.

County officers will enforce the ban in the unincorporated regions of the county. On Monday, Brooks will ask the county’s judiciary committee to create a local ordinance in conjunction with the state law. County officers will still be able to make arrests under the state law but the local ordinance will make it easier for officers to issue citations similar to the way they issue traffic citations. Officers can avoid the “long form and won’t have to burden the district attorney’s office, Brooks said.

This is the plan for clear cut offenses. Brooks acknowledged the district attorney may have to be involved in cases where things are not so clear, such as when the “enclosed place” issue arises.

“The legal system is still grappling with that questions,” he said.

About a dozen bar and restaurant owners responded to Muehrer’s letter by submitting plans to the city’s site plan review committee. About 40 others had already established outside areas suitable for use by smokers. That means about half of the city’s roughly 120 bars and restaurants either have outdoor smoking areas or will by the time the smoking ban starts.

Once the ban goes into effect, those without outdoor smoking areas will certainly feel the effect in their pocketbooks, said David Vienola, owner of Bison & Elk, Co., a bar on Oregon Street. From a competitive standpoint these smoking areas will be crucial once the ban goes into effect, he said.

From simple fenced-off spaces at the South End Zone, 919 Oregon St., to decks and patios complete with tiki bars, gas grills, tile floors and custom made furniture like the setup at Bison, outdoor smoking areas are cropping up all over.

Vienola and his brother Matt own the bar as well as Vienola Bros., a construction company. They built their own outdoor patio as well as the ones at Brooklyn, 607 S. Main St. and at Fratello’s, a bar and restaurant on the banks of the Fox River on Arboretum Drive.

Aside from the potential “enclosed place” loophole, the Vienolas are clear on the rules for these outdoor smoking accommodations. They are pleased with the help they’ve received from the city in obtaining building permits. Their client, John Supple, owner of Fratello’s, described working with Davis and his staff as a “breath of fresh air. They try to help you make it work.”

Supple is pleased that the law provides consistency in that all bars and restaurants statewide will have to comply. But questions remain.

“Everyone is on the same playing field (but) we’re still trying to figure it all out,” he said. “I don’t think anybody knows how to interpret the law.”

By Patricia Wolff, June 13, 2010

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