South Dakota smoking ban gets second chance

A bill to prohibit smoking in all public places passed through the House State Affairs Committee February 18, 11-2.

House Bill 1240 would prohibit smoking in most places, with the exception for cigar bars, smoke shops and hotel rooms.

Rep. Bob Faehn, R-Watertown, the main sponsor of the bill, said there is a clear hazard with secondhand smoke. When some people's rights infringe on other people's rights, he said, it is time for the government to intervene. "There are a lot of rights that the government takes away already because it's our job to make sure that those rights don't infringe on the rights of anyone else," he said. "Are the rights of the pregnant young waitress working in a smoking environment any less important than the man sitting at the end of the bar smoking? He simply has to get up and go outside. She has to quit her job."

Supporters of the bill said support for the ban in South Dakota continues to be strong, with 65 percent to 70 percent of the population of South Dakota supporting a smoking ban.

Shawn Lyons, lobbyist for the South Dakota Retailers Association, opposed the bill. He said many businesses will be impacted and find it hard to recoup any losses they suffer. Opponents of the ban estimated that the state's loss in revenue, from gaming and other sources that will be affected by the legislation, would be between $20 and $25 million each year. "In a state that is desperate for revenue right now, it doesn't seem practical to risk such a move," Lyons said.

Opponents also said that in Minnesota, Colorado and Iowa, the smoking ban caused bars to close, a loss in gaming revenue and a loss of liquor licenses.

Jennifer Staley with the American Cancer Society refuted some of the opponents' claims. She said gaming revenues were already down in all states because of the economy, even in Las Vegas, which allows smoking. In the long run, Staley said, smoking bans have no negative impacts on business. She said that the number of alcohol licenses lost in Iowa was just natural turnover of alcohol licenses. Between July and December of 2008, after their smoking ban was enacted, she said Iowa saw 371 new licenses issued.

Before passage, the bill was amended to make the penalty for smoking in a public place a petty offense, involving only a civil penalty instead of a Class 2 misdemeanor. Another amendment exempted Deadwood gaming facilities from the bill.

Rep. Val Rausch supported the bill. He said his constituents and other people he had talked to had overwhelmingly wanted to see tougher restrictions on smoking in public places. "Although I'm not 100 percent in favor of this package," he said, "... I think it's time we take steps to look out for the health of our constituents."

Rep. Manford Steele, R-Sioux Falls, said that the only reason he was supporting the bill was because 70 to 80 percent of his constituents wanted him to support it.