- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

DOVER, Del. Given the hue and cry after Delaware lawmakers passed the nation's toughest indoor smoking ban earlier this year, the recent requests for exemptions for bars, restaurants and casinos were not unexpected.
But an exemption for patients at the Delaware Hospital for the Chronically Ill?
"A few residents were upset, so we tried to get a reprieve," said Walter Kubec, a patient at the Smyrna hospital for 28 years and head of its resident council.
Exemptions for the hospital, where Mr. Kubec estimates that about half the patients smoke, and two other state-run long-term-care facilities were rejected, along with several others submitted in the days leading up to Wednesday, when the ban takes effect just after midnight.
The new law prohibits smoking in indoor enclosed areas to which the general public is invited or permitted. That includes bars, casinos, restaurants, bowling alleys and pool halls. Hotels must set aside at least 75 percent of rooms as nonsmoking.
The law exempts private functions when seating arrangements are controlled by the sponsor instead of the facility operator, and fund-raising activities sponsored by volunteer fire and rescue companies and fraternal organizations such as the Elks and Moose.
Even before implementation of the ban, a campaign issue in this month's legislative races, lawmakers were bracing for bills to amend or repeal it.
"It's a tremendous societal change," said state Sen. David B. McBride, a Democrat and chief sponsor of the legislation that resulted in the ban. "Change is never easy."
Supporters of the ban say it will help protect public health and reduce Delaware's cancer rate, among the highest in the nation.
"We are anxiously awaiting November 27th, as are a majority of Delawareans," said Karen Murtha, a spokeswoman for IMPACT, a statewide anti-tobacco coalition.
Critics contend that the ban infringes on the rights of business owners, is costly and unenforceable.
"Everybody's a little apprehensive," said Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a Democrat.
A projected budget deficit of $95 million this fiscal year and a drop of $134 million in estimated revenue for next year have bolstered arguments that the state can't afford to ban smoking, particularly in casinos that contribute $200 million annually to the general fund.
Officials estimate the ban will result in a $15 million loss to the state this fiscal year and $20 million in fiscal 2004.
Business owners are more worried about their own pocketbooks.
"The economic issue is going to be huge," warned Steve Torpey, owner of Stanley's Tavern in Wilmington and chairman of the Delaware Restaurant Association, which represents an industry with more than $1 billion in annual sales.
Although some churches and synagogues fear they will lose bingo business to fire companies and fraternal groups, Mr. Torpey said bars and restaurants that serve alcohol will be especially hard hit.
Given Delaware's small size, some smokers will simply drive to neighboring states to gamble, dine out or have a few drinks, critics say.
"It will probably kill us," said Sherry Fistere of the Bayview Inn, a blue-collar bar in Bowers Beach that failed to get an exemption.
Regulars such as Mike Baynum, 41, a boat captain and three-pack-a-day Marlboro man, can barely contain their disgust for Mrs. Minner, who signed the ban into law in May.
"Ruth Ann has been behind the watermen for years and she's always had my vote," said Mr. Baynum, who now has a "Ban Ruth Ann" bumper sticker on his pickup truck, along with one reading "Land of the Free, Except Delaware."
Even the nonsmoking regulars at Miss Fistere's bar are against the ban, saying it infringes on individual rights.
"That's what I fought for," said Robert Field, 78, a combat veteran of World War II.
Scores of communities and a few states have approved smoking bans, but none goes as far as Delaware's, which Mrs. Minner said was "quite the topic of conversation" at this month's meeting of the National Governors Association in Texas.
California also prohibits smoking in bars and restaurants, but it requires a smaller percentage of nonsmoking rooms in hotels and exempts businesses with five or fewer employees. A smoking ban approved by Florida voters this month does not include bars.
"The reason I'm paying so much attention to Delaware is it's the first major law like this on the East Coast," said Stanton Glantz, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco and outspoken tobacco opponent. "If it works out there, things are going to spread pretty fast."
Mr. Glantz defended the 1993 decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to classify secondhand smoke as a human carcinogen, which paved the way for many indoor smoking bans.
A federal judge in North Carolina overturned the EPA's decision in 1998, citing scientific bias and flawed research methodology. That decision is being appealed.


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