Heated debate likely on bill to ban smoking in public places
The March 13 public hearing in Legislative Hallâ€™s House Chamber on a law proposing to ban smoking in most indoor public places in Delaware promises to be as fiery as its subject.
Time has not cooled the debate between the supporters and opponents of Senate Bill 99 since it was introduced last spring.
Even the legislators have had difficulty coming to an agreement about which indoor public spaces should be included.
More than five Senate amendments and more than seven House amendments trail in the wake of the original bill.
Smoking in taprooms and taverns has been the subject of two amendments. A prohibition against smoking within 20 feet of an entrance or exit to any area in which smoking is restricted was removed by one of the amendments.
Supporters and opponents of the bill see no ambiguities in their positions, however.
Those against the bill see it as discriminatory and political.
Those in favor of the billâ€™s sweeping restrictions on smoking in public indoor places say, unequivocally, second-hand smoke is harmful to the health of everyone who has to breathe it.
Some opponents say the only health that is being endangered is the economic health of businesses, such as restaurants, which they believe will lose their smoking clientele.
Restaurant owners will be well represented at the hearing, said Delaware Restaurant Association Executive Director Carrie Leishman last week. She and others will lobby against the bill at the hearing.
In a statement she made to the Dover Post, Leishman stressed she believes decisions about smoking in restaurants â€œshould be left up to the business owner.â€
She also forwarded statistics illustrating the restaurant industryâ€™s impact on Delawareâ€™s economy. The associationâ€™s figures stated that Delawareâ€™s projected eating-place sales volume will reach $1.1 billion in 2002 and that Delaware restaurant employees earn $300 million in annual wages.
â€œThe Delaware Restaurant Association is deeply concerned with SB99 as we firmly believe this bill creates an â€˜unlevel playing fieldâ€™ by allowing a patchwork of have and have-nots regarding smoking,â€ she said. â€œOur 1,700 restaurants [statewide] and 30,000 employees find it incomprehensible that if passed, SB99 would allow casino restaurants and taverns (that sell food) to accommodate their smoking customers while prohibiting all other restaurants from doing the same.
â€œThis is extremely bad legislation. This becomes a political issue â€“ far from the health issue that it proposes,â€ she said.
While â€œgaming facilities that are open to the publicâ€ are on the list of places in the bill where smoking would be prohibited, the future of smoking in Delawareâ€™s slot casinos is not written in stone.
â€œThe Representativesâ€™ preference would be to have non-smoking in all public areas, but we recognize there would be some areas where people enjoy smoking and for that we are considering permitting smoking in discrete, segregated areas,â€ said House of Representatives spokeswoman Stephanie Mantegna last week. â€œWe are also considering reasonable measures which would permit a compromise on the issue.â€
Health is the issue
Any further amendments to the bill that would clarify smoking in casinos would not mean, however, that House sponsors of the bill Reps. Robert J. Valihura, R.-Talleyville and Deborah D. Hudson, R.-Wilmington have changed their minds about the health risks associated with second-hand smoke.
â€œSmoke free air in all indoor public access areas is not a new or radical concept,â€ said Valihura, in a statement to the Dover Post last week. â€œMost public areas, such as those in malls, department stores, supermarkets and most work areas, are smoke free today.
â€œThis new law would simply extend what the law is today to ensure that virtually all indoor areas open to the public would be free from the dangerous effects of second-hand smoke,â€ he said. â€œThis legislation is the most cost-effective and direct measure that can be enacted to assist Delaware in lowering its chronically and excessively high cancer mortality rate. Our health â€“ and, indeed, our lives â€“ are depending on it.â€
Mantegna said she expects a larger number of supporters of the bill to sign-up to speak at the hearing and has heard from representatives from the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association who have indicated they will speak.
John Dâ€™Angelo, of Magnolia, a board member of the American Lung Association and a former chair of IMPACT Delaware Tobacco Coalition, is among the supporters of the bill.
â€œMy opinion is that clean indoor air is everyoneâ€™s right and a smoke-filled restaurant, casino, hotel or bowling alley is really a dangerous place for employees, for visitors [and] for clients. It is just not a safe environment.
â€œI guess the reason for that is that second-hand smoke can irritate someoneâ€™s asthma. It is irritating to the eyes, to the mucous membranes [and] it is listed as a â€˜group A carcinogenâ€™ by the EPA,â€ he said.
Dâ€™Angelo said based on that information alone, his opinion is that any other product would be outlawed if they caused these conditions.
â€œIf there were a carpet cleaner that did that, they would stop using it. If it were a furniture polish, they would ban it. If all restaurants and hotels went smoke free then everyone would be on the same playing field,â€ he said.
He also disputes the view that the restaurant industryâ€™s economy would be adversely affected if the law is enacted saying that more than 80 municipalities, including New York City, Phoenix and Los Angeles, have enacted clean indoor air legislation and have not seen a decrease in restaurant revenues.â€
Dâ€™Angelo said he believes most of the opposition to the bill comes from the tobacco industry.
â€œAs I understand it, most of the information the opponents have comes from the tobacco industry, which has a vested interest. There are even legislators who have proposed amendments to this bill that have the exact same language that the tobacco industry uses,â€ he said.
Citizens interested in speaking at the hearing should call the House of Representatives at (302) 577-8515 in advance. Public comment will be limited to no more than three minutes per person.