Delaware Becomes Smokefree


The state Senate approved a bill Tuesday, May 14, 2002, [download PDF copy of legislation] that bans smoking in bars, restaurants and casinos and makes Delaware's smokefree law one of the nation's toughest. Already approved by the House, the Clean Indoor Air Act will take effect six months after Gov. Ruth Ann Minner signs the bill, which she has said she will do.

Governor Ruth Ann Minner Announces Intention to Sign Smokefree Workplace Legislation on World No Tobacco Day, May 31 at 9:45am in Rodney Square. [Details Here.]

Critics warned the decision could bring dire financial consequences to state revenues, especially from casinos. Casino officials predicted many smokers would go elsewhere to gamble, costing the state as much as $57 million a year. State officials told the Senate they were unable to find any other casino in the United States that operates smoke free.

The bill passed the Senate in an 18-3 vote after about two hours of debate. Senators defeated five amendments, including measures that would have exempted casinos, taprooms or taverns. Supporters hugged, clapped and cheered in the lobby outside the Senate chamber. Many pressed for the bill to spare people and employees in public places from secondhand smoke, which is unhealthful. "I've got shivers down my spine. The magnitude of what we've done is starting to sink in," said Rep. Robert J. Valihura Jr., R-Edenridge, one of the bill's chief sponsors in the House. "I don't think there will ever be a bigger high as a public official than I have right now."

Sen. David McBride, D-Hawks Nest, urged passage of the bill during a speech on the Senate floor that included quotes from scientist Albert Einstein, playwright William Shakespeare and musician Bob Dylan. He envisioned changes to the tax-free Delaware signs at the state's borders. "Let there be signs that say, 'Come visit smoke-free Delaware,'" McBride said.

Not everyone was pleased by the legislation. "I'm disgusted," Newark resident Barbara Carroll, 59, said upon leaving Dover Downs, where she plays the slots on Tuesdays with her husband Irvin, 68. Both are smokers. They predicted they would travel to Atlantic City when the smoking ban takes effect. "I'm not going to sit all night and not have a cigarette," Carroll said.

People like the Carrolls concern Denis McGlynn, president and chief executive officer of the Dover Downs motorsports and gaming companies. He testified Tuesday that Delaware's revenue losses could reach $57 million if smokers abandon the state's three casinos. Half the 6,832 customers surveyed last spring at Dover Downs were smokers, McGlynn has said. Forty-seven percent said they would stop coming if the casino went smoke free. The casino draws 83 percent of its customers from out of state, with significant business coming from the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., corridors. Those people, he fears, will be lost to West Virginia, where they can play slots and smoke.

Half of Dover Downs slots is nonsmoking, McGlynn testified Tuesday, but 79 percent more dollars come through the machines in the smoking sections. McGlynn also said the bill would send a bad message to NASCAR, which runs auto races at Dover Downs. The company that makes Winston cigarettes is one of its chief sponsors. Dover negotiates annually with NASCAR for the races. "I have to worry about the impact this will have on our future relations with them," he said. "They are free to leave at will."

Officials from NASCAR had no comment on the Senate vote Tuesday. Officials with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. could not be reached. McGlynn said he would continue talking with state lawmakers about the financial impacts of the legislation, in hopes something might change before the session concludes in June. "I've got to remain optimistic," he said.

The governor said she wasn't convinced the state would lose as much revenue as critics have predicted, although she expects to feel some impact. But there are benefits too, she said. "It will save us a great deal of money when it comes to health care costs, " Minner said.

Nationwide, only California also has a law specifically banning smoking in casinos and other gaming venues, said Mary Kay Sones, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. However, California's law excepts casinos on Indian property, said Joanne Wellman-Benson, a program consultant with the Tobacco Control Program of the state's Department of Health Services.

Passage of the law is a milestone, said Andrew Hysell, a spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids in Washington, D.C. He predicted other states would follow the lead of Delaware and California. "It's going to send shock waves" through the country, said Hysell. Finance Secretary David W. Singleton said Tuesday that his office has searched for an outside, objective study on the financial implications of making a casino smoke-free. They haven't been able to find one. Controller General Russell T. Larson testified his office also tried researching the effects of smoke-free policies on bars and casinos. The study was stopped after the Senate passed a bill last year that prohibited smoking in most public buildings, but not taverns, taprooms and casinos. The House amended that version this year to make the smoking ban more widespread, and the Senate passed that version.

The bill prohibits smoking inside restaurants and bars, but allows it in areas of outdoor seating, such as decks. The bill would not stop people who watch the races at Dover Downs from smoking in the stands and at parking lot tailgate parties. It would ban smoking in the hotel lobby or at the slot machines. Smokers may not light up in pool halls and bowling alleys. The legislation allows smoking during fund-raisers at fire, rescue or ambulance company facilities or fraternal organizations, such as Elks Clubs. Seventy five percent of rooms at all Delaware hotels must be smokefree. Financial penalties could reach $100 for first offenders, said Frank Murphy, a Senate attorney. Repeat offenders would face minimum $250 penalties.

Bill Glenn, owner of Castaways Lounge, a Laurel bar, was disappointed by the legislation. He said it represents "a continual erosion of our property rights and our choices to be able to make our own decisions." The Delaware Restaurant Association did not oppose Senate passage of the bill, although many of its members want to accommodate smokers. The association's board said it would not object to an evenhanded ban. Deb Brown, director of programs and advocacy for the American Lung Association of Delaware, said the bill's passage happened because lawmakers listened to constituents.

Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover South, was among the three senators who voted against the bill. By banning smoking in public places, but relying on cigarettes to generate state revenue, Delaware takes on a "Jekyll and Hyde" character, he said. "I am very perturbed by that hypocrisy," Bonini said. Sens. Robert Venables, D-Laurel, and James Vaughn, D-Clayton also opposed the bill.

by MARY ALLEN / Staff reporter
Source: Wilmington (DE) News Journal