Bill Passes In Legislature To Further Restrict Smoking
PIERRE -- Choking back tears while holding up a cigarette she bought for a quarter from a man at a truck stop, Judy Pesall told legislators that smokers killed her asthmatic mother last month.
The stirring testimony came Wednesday during lengthy debate on a bill that would ban smoking in most South Dakota restaurants and workplaces.
Pesall, of Webster, was among a string of people who convinced the House State Affairs Committee to send the measure to the House floor for a final vote. SB118 was approved earlier by the Senate. The House committee endorsed it 9-4.
The bill would prohibit smoking in enclosed public places, workplaces and homes used for day-care operations. Violators could be fined $20.
Existing law bans smoking in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, public libraries, museums, theaters, schools, buses, jury rooms, elevators and day-care operations.
SB118 would extend the smoking ban to restaurants, retail stores and other places of employment. The ban would not apply to motel rooms, casinos, bars, restaurants serving liquor, and stores that primarily sell liquor or tobacco.
Pesall said her mother and other family members were in a Bristol cafe on Jan. 27. She said cigarette smoke from two patrons caused her mother to have an asthma attack. Pesall said her mother went outside to use a device that helps clear the lungs but came back into the cafe gasping for breath.
''She said, 'Please get me some help. I'm dying,''' Pesall said.
An ambulance was called, but her mother could not be revived, Pesall said, holding up a cigarette. ''This one, 25-cent hit man murdered my mother,'' she told legislators.
Several others who urged approval of the bill said numerous studies have proven that secondhand smoke is a health hazard. However, tobacco lobbyists argued that other studies have come to an opposite conclusion.
The industry lobbyists suggested that if smoking is truly a health issue, it should be banned in all homes, too. Secondhand smoke is instead a nuisance, argued Jeremiah M. Murphy, representing Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp. If health problems are caused by smoke, regulation of smokers should be uniform and not haphazard, he said.
''It's a bill to regulate a nuisance,'' Murphy insisted.
The bill would provide uneven protection by banning smoking in some places and not others, and health laws do not work that way, he added.
Jeremiah D. Murphy, lobbyist for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and father of Jeremiah M. Murphy, said people behind SB118 are well-intended, but their claims that secondhand smoke is a health hazard are suspect. There's a lot of research that shows otherwise, he said.
''There are all kinds of studies that give a free pass, if you will, to secondhand smoke,'' the elder Murphy said, calling smoke an irritant but not a health risk. Secondhand smoke is a health problem for young children whose parents smoke in poorly ventilated homes, he conceded.
Murphy said great strides have been made in South Dakota over the years to reduce smoking in businesses. Business owners will voluntarily snuff smoking if their customers demand it, he said.
''They're in business to make a profit, and if they can do that by banning smoking, they will,'' he said.
Several doctors told the committee of health problems caused by inhaling secondhand smoke.
''It's poison, and it's poison that's going in your lungs whether you like it or not,'' said Dr. Allen Nord of Rapid City, lobbyist for the South Dakota Academy of Family Physicians.
There are 4,000 chemicals in secondhand smoke, and 50 of them cause cancer, said Dr. Kevin Weiland of Rapid City. He said many common childhood maladies are caused by parents who smoke. ''Secondhand smoke is hazardous.''
Sen. Mac McCracken, R-Rapid City, prime sponsor of the bill, said it should be passed for the benefit of the 80 percent of South Dakotans who do not smoke. ''We are talking about protecting the health of a majority of our citizens.''
Rep. Bill Peterson, R-Sioux Falls, found it incredulous that tobacco lobbyists said smoking is not a general health hazard. In response, he said, ''Some people still believe the Earth is flat and man didn't land on the moon.''
Peterson is the main House sponsor of SB118.
''I don't think that there is a public health issue as important to the state of South Dakota today as the issue of tobacco,'' he said. ''When someone lights up a cigarette, that is an invisible killer.''
Among those to testify against the bill was Matthew Ramsey, owner of a restaurant and a saloon in Hermosa. Government should not interfere with businesses by banning smoking, he said. He said ended smoking in his steakhouse Feb. 1, but not in his bar.
Jerry Wheeler, executive director of the state Retailers Association, said most members of that group oppose the bill. Businesses will ban smoking if it is in their best interests, he said.
''Businesses have to cater to their customers or they're not going to be in business,'' Wheeler said.
The 20 percent of people who are smokers also have rights, he said. ''What are you going to do, take them out in the forest and shoot 'em?''
If smoke in businesses offends people, they should go elsewhere, said Ginger Ammon of Dell Rapids.
Restricting smoking in the workplace will not only protect nonsmokers but also prompt many smokers to quit, said Kitty Kinsman, former state health secretary and lobbyist for the American Cancer Society.
''Businesses have a responsibility to provide a healthy and safe work environment for employees and customers, and the right to do business in this state comes with responsibilities,'' Kinsman said.
Alicia Ramsdell, 17, of Sturgis, who works in a restaurant where smoking is allowed, said she doesn't like it but has no choice. The job pays $10 an hour, and she cannot do as well elsewhere, Ramsdell said.
Smoking sets a bad example for children, she said.
''Kids, when they see adults smoke, they want to be like an adult,'' Ramsdell said.
It is not easy to start a business, and government regulations only add to the burden, said Rep. Bill Napoli, R-Rapid City, who opposed the bill.
''I'm just outraged at how callous and venomous the proponents have talked about the rights of a business, the rights that have been guaranteed by the Constitution of this country to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,'' he said.
If smoking is banned in the workplace and most businesses, it is unlikely the Legislature will stop there, he warned.
''I know the next step is going to be the home,'' Napoli said.