The first legal challenge to the city of Fond du Lac's smoking ban comes not from a bar or restaurant, but Fond du Lac County.
With the city's smoking ban set to begin on Monday, county officials seek an exception for the acute psychiatric unit at the County Health Care Center, a request which was denied by the city council Wednesday night.
County Executive Al Buechel said the County has allowed a smoking room at the psych unit since passing a smoking ban for its buildings in 1993. They'll ask a judge for temporary injunction to stop implementation of the ban at the Health Care Center, and to decide which ban trumps the other. “At least that will give the staff time to make the necessary adjustments to go smoke free, if that's what they have to do,” said Buechel.
Wednesday's debate over the issue pitted county official against county official. County Tobacco Control Coalition Coordinator Sandy Bernier said other mental health facilities have found benefits from curbing the smoking of patients in their facilities. “What they did experience was the patient's ability to focus on getting well, as opposed to getting his or her next cigarette break,” said Benier. But county Corporation Counsel Bill Bendt said a lot of people in the psych unit are there involuntarily, and it's in the interest of the city to make sure those patients are getting the treatment they are there for.
County Board supervisor Jim Kiser noted it's going to cost the County about $50,000 for smoking patches, which he says won't work for the psych patients. “County medical professionals on staff contend that patches are ineffective in the short run,” said Kiser. “The patient is there for treatment for a more serious addiction, and not to quit smoking.” County Board of Health Chairman Dr. Warren Post questioned the accuracy that $50,000 figure, which he called greatly in excess of what other institutions have faced. “There may be some added expenses, not tremendous added expenses,” said Post.