TOPEKA — Smoking War II started today at the capital.
Owners of bars and clubs pleaded with a House committee to allow them to once again allow smoking in their establishments.
Casino developers pleaded with the lawmakers not to take away their option to allow smoking on their gambling floors.
And anti-smoking advocates and some doctors pleaded with the committee to increase, but definitely not ease, the state’s smoking ban.
It’s been about a year since the Legislature passed a law that prohibits indoor smoking in virtually all workplaces and public establishments — with the noted exception of the state-owned gambling casinos that are springing up around Kansas under the auspices of the state Lottery.
Today, the House Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on two bills that seek to change the status quo:
– House Bill 2039 would revoke the section of the law that exempts gaming floors in casinos — which the state calls “Expanded Lottery Gaming Facilities.”
– House Bill 2040 would allow bars that sell lottery tickets or have lottery keno screens to allow their patrons to smoke.
Since last year, many owners of bars and taverns — especially small ones — have complained of dramatic declines in business since the smoking ban took effect.
Seeking to combat an earlier study that showed little impact from the ban on alcohol taxes, Sheila Martin, a bar owner from Hutchinson, presented the committee with a sheaf of letters showing “30 to 50 percent decreases in income, for real people with real faces.”
She said far fewer people come to bars, and spend less time there, when the owners have to “throw people out in the snow for their health.”
Phil Wiggins, owner of Shooter’s, a billiards club in south Wichita, said he’s lost business from the ban and if something doesn’t change, he expects to lose more with the opening of the $260 million Kansas Star casino, which is under development at the Mulvane exit on the Kansas Turnpike.
He said he doesn’t think its fair that his club can’t allow smoking while the state-owned casino can, which gives it the competitive advantage. He said the Wichita ordinance that preceded the statewide ban, with its requirements of separated and ventilated smoking and non-smoking sections, “worked just fine.”
Several casino representatives testified that taking smoking away from them would threaten their bottom line and the income the state expects from its share of casino operations.
Casinos in Delaware, Illinois, Colorado and Ontario, Canada, all experienced dips of 20 to 25 percent in gaming revenue after smoking bans took effect, said Elizabeth Tranchina, vice president of legal affairs for Peninsula Gaming, the Kansas Star’s parent company.
“In short, a casino smoking ban will significantly reduce state tax revenues, resulting in reduced budget funding for state programs, fewer jobs and jeopardizing future capital investment in the state,” she said in her written testimony.
The committee also received testimony from several proponents of maintaining the smoking ban as is or expanding it to remove the few exemptions it contains now. Among that contingent was the Kansas Association of Family Physicians, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society.
Jen Brull, a physician from Plainville, related two recent case histories from her practice of women she believes suffered serious illness from exposure to second-hand smoke.
One was a bar owner who didn’t smoke, but allowed in her business for 40 years. She now has chronic pulmonary obstructive disease. The other was a woman with pneumonia and emphysema, whose husband smoked for 50 years and whose daughter, her primary caregiver, smokes now.
Brull said she’s confident the women wouldn’t have those problems if they hadn’t been exposed to smoke.
“Second-hand smoke is a public health issue, not just an annoyance,” she said.