A day after officially kicking off their "Yes on 12! A Smoke Free South Dakota" campaign, supporters of a statewide smoke-free law visited Vermillion and other communities in the region to continue their grass-roots effort as November nears.
The law, which would extend a prohibition on workplace smoking to include all bars, restaurants, casinos and video lottery establishments, was approved by the South Dakota Legislature in 2009, but was sent to a referendum by opponents. It will appear as question 12 on the fall ballot.
"We firmly believe the people of South Dakota support this (law) overwhelmingly," said Jennifer Stalley, South Dakota government relations director for the American Cancer Society. "Ours is a grass roots, get-out-the vote campaign, and I don't think there are a lot of folks who are left in the undecided camp.
"We've talked about this quite a bit, and in the last 10 years, people have become very informed about the issue itself," she said. "We are trying to make sure that our supporters understand that they actually have to vote 'yes' in order for the law to take effect."
On Tuesday, Aug. 31, supporters of the statewide smoke-free law began their campaign with simultaneous press conferences in Sioux Falls and Rapid City. At approximately the same time, the opponents of the law have begun to step up their efforts to see the issue defeated at the ballot box.
"A couple weeks ago, we had gaming industry representatives say that second-hand smoke is a political slogan and not scientific, and that smoking in Deadwood is a national pasttime and should be preserved," Stalley said. "Last weekend at the Corn Palace debates, we had Mr. Don Rose, who is the opposition's spokesperson, say that he doesn't believe that second-hand smoke is as bad as we are saying, and that in fact we need to amend this law in the 2011 legislative session and start over."
Rose is a representative of Citizens for Individual Freedom, the group working to defeat the smoke-free ballot measure.
Stalley said supporters of the smoke-free law are not advocating that South Dakotans must quit smoking, even though a major goal of the American Cancer Society is to see more people in the state live healthier lives by kicking their addiction to nicotine.
"This isn't about saying that nobody can smoke," she said. "We're saying that you have to step outside to do it. You can't smoke around me while I'm serving you your beer, and you can't smoke around me while I'm sitting near you at a different table drinking my beer."
The 2009 Legislature passed the expanded smoking ban to take effect on July 1, 2009. Owners of bars and casinos submitted petition signatures to refer it to a vote, but the matter went to court after Secretary of State Chris Nelson ruled that enough signatures were invalid to keep it off the ballot.
After a lengthy legal battle, a judge last November cleared the way for it to be put on the ballot.
"Certainly, we were disappointed that petitions were turned in and that opponents have held up the law," Stalley said, "But we've always said that it's part of the process. If you look back at the opponents' statements during the process, they were saying then that all they wanted is for people to vote on this. Now, all of a sudden, Don Rose says that we need some amendments on this."
She noted that many smokers already step outside when lighting up because they respect the rights of others. That's why Stalley believes the law will be approved by voters in November, and will have no noticeable impact on bars and restaurants.
"We have a lot of younger people who are bartending and waitressing because those are the jobs that are available," Stalley said. "And, with the changes in the economy, we're seeing a lot of older people coming back to those professions to get the extra hours they need.
"No one should have to choose between their paycheck and their health," she said, "and knowing what we know now about second-hand smoke we know it's bad and what this law is saying is we aren't going to expose people to it in an indoor area."
People involved with the "Yes on 12!" campaign are prepared for a vigorous effort by both opponents and proponents of the smoke-free law leading up to the November.
"We are prepared for it to be a hard-fought campaign," Stalley said. "I think we're also prepared for the potential to see national money (in support of the law's opponents) to be dropped in by gaming associations. Mr. Rose and the Citizens for Individual Freedom have the potential, I think, to raise a lot of money because you've got video lottery interested. So we aren't taking any of that for granted.
"We fully expect this to be an expensive campaign. They (the law's opponents) have the potential to raise a lot of money through their gaming contacts, and that's really why we're kicking off now, and after Labor Day we will be taking this to the people with a campaign that includes a lot of shoe leather and yard signs and letters to the editor," she said.
The law's opponents have ramp up their efforts, too. Stalley noted that Rose recently tried to link passage of the smoke-free law to a state income tax.
Twenty-eight states currently have smoke-free laws on the books.
"There are two states (with smoke-free laws) that don't have an income tax New Hampshire and Florida, but more importantly, most of the states with an income tax implemented them in the 1940s. The first smoke-free law was passed in California in 1998, she said, "so, that's a 50-year spread between an income tax and a smoke-free law. It just doesn't add up."
Much of the "Yes on 12!" campaign is focusing on health issues. According to the law's supporters:
• Strong public policies that restrict smoking in public places and workplaces have been proven to reduce the health risks associated with secondhand smoke exposure.
• A study in Pueblo, CO found 41 percent reduced hospitalizations for heart attacks after implementing a smoke free ordinance. Nearby communities without the ordinance did not see a similar drop.
• A University of Minnesota study found an 85 percent decrease in bar and restaurant workers exposure to cancer-causing chemicals found in secondhand smoke and an 83 percent reduction in nonsmoking bar and restaurant workers exposure to nicotine.
• A University of Wisconsin study of bartenders in Appleton and Madison found a significant reduction in upper respiratory problems including wheezing, coughing, phlegm and shortness of breath among non-smoking bar workers in the weeks after both cities went smoke-free.
Literally thousands of people across South Dakota have indicated they are willing to help campaign in support of the state-wide smoke-free law, Stalley said. "Our job now is to use those people to mobilize enough people to show up and vote."