Wisconsin beer coaster encourages lung cancer

Published 9:40 am Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I spent three glorious years living there, without question some of the happiest days of my life. I met the love of my life there, who continues to bring me happiness daily. It was there I first became interested in bowling, a sport I still find fascination in today, despite my non-mastery of it. It was there I was first introduced to a whole different type of natural beauty; I became enamored with bluffs and river valleys after spending the majority of my years prior surrounded by prairie grasses and the flatlands of western Minnesota.

And it was there I first heard the term “neighborhood bar.” You see, someone seemed to have a different plan for how to lay out Minnesota towns. Consistency and vanilla seemed to be the goal. Businesses here. Homes over there. Wisconsin, the odd and fascinating place I was clandestinely referencing in the first 110 words of this column, is more like this: bar, bar, church, bar, house, bar, bar, church, bar, house, although that seems to be more of a pattern than any that actually exists. ZONING seems like a foreign concept once you cross the mighty Mississippi River.

And I absolutely love it. Anyone who’s ever seen my work desk … or my garage … or the room in my house I’m sitting in typing this right now knows I live with a certain level of disorder and chaos in my life. Bar, bar, church, house, bar — or paper clip, paper clip, empty pop can, highlighter, pocket change, stack of papers — it’s all there in no particular order. But if you moved it around it would feel out of place.

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Like I said previously, my wife is from Wisconsin and she’s proud of it. She should be. Like Texas, another place I lived briefly, Wisconsin is unique and does not shy away from being proud of its heritage, however odd pieces of that heritage may be. Truly, it seems half the News of the Weird-type items you hear about in the national news seem to come from either Wisconsin and Texas. She grew up in a beautiful river town in Southwestern Wisconsin: Prairie du Chien, population 6,000.

It was in Prairie du Chien recently I discovered the piece of artwork you see accompanying this column. It’s actually a beer coaster, which is appropriate for Wisconsin. Great and interesting artwork buried under a frosty mug.

Take a look at the artwork if you haven’t already.

It says, “Stop the Smoking Ban.” A huge arm and hand wearing what appears to be a short-sleeved police officer uniformed shirt. A diminutive bar tender, using a bottle cap and bottle opener, fights off the arm, protecting valiantly some beer taps. The logo says, “Member, Tavern League of Wisconsin.”

On the back it says the following: “The state wants to ban smoking on private property like this tavern. This government mandate limits freedom and could force many taverns to close. Help me protect my business and the freedoms that all Wisconsin residents now enjoy. Contact your legislator today. Tell them to keep the state smoking ban out of taverns. Paid for by over 5,000 Mom and Pop Members of the Tavern League of Wisconsin.”

While it all strikes me as humorous — and simultaneously deadly serious — the part I want to focus on is the final two sentences from the back of the coaster. Tell them to keep the state smoking ban out of taverns. Paid for by over 5,000 Mom and Pop Members of the Tavern League of Wisconsin.

Before we get into the good stuff, let me first say Minnesotans generally don’t understand how powerful the Tavern League of Wisconsin is when it comes to lobbying its legislators. It’s amazing the leverage it has. I have to say I’m impressed.

What I’m not so impressed with is their plea via beer coaster art to pick up a phone and call a legislator and say the following: “Please help promote lung cancer and poor health, especially among employees who are forced to inhale other people’s bad habit all day so ‘mom and pop’ can keep the bar next to my house, across the street from the school open.”

I have a good friend who works in law enforcement here in town. He and I disagree on a lot of things. Most things, really, but not on smoking bans.

Someone should not have the right to smoke around by dinner food. Not with what we now know. We are in the 21st century. We know too much and yet often choose to act nave. Another friend of mine put it best: If cigarettes were a new product today, would we approve their legality? Of course not. Not with what we know.

Read it again: “Tell them to keep the state smoking ban out of taverns.” C’mon, Wisconsinites. You’re smarter than this. Minnesota and Iowa are already on board with promoting safer workplaces for those who support their families by working in bars. I consider La Crosse, Wis., my adopted hometown. Make me proud.

Join forces with the right side of history. Keep smoking outdoors. And keep your beautiful artwork on the walls, not under the glass.

Albert Lea resident Riley Worth’s column appears every other Tuesday.