SIOUX FALLS | Three years after South Dakota voters extended a smoking ban in public buildings to bars, restaurants and casinos, some of the health benefits proponents promised have shown up in statistics.
The sharp decline in video lottery revenue that foes of the ban predicted also materialized.
And while it's certainly possible to find aggrieved smokers still smoldering about being forced to leave the comforts of a friendly tavern or a hot streak on a lottery machine to light up outdoors in all weather, an issue fought out first in the Legislature, then in circuit court and finally at the ballot box has virtually receded into the sort of prohibition people take for granted.
You don't run red lights. You don't smoke indoors.
"The topic of the smoking ban rarely comes up when we are talking about strategic planning for the future," Deb Mortenson, executive director of the Music and Vending Association of South Dakota which represents video lottery proprietors, told the Argus Leader (http://argusne.ws/18orWoI ).
In a way, it's striking that on Nov. 9, 2010, it was possible to sit at a bar with your elbows resting in spilled beer and cigarette butts, and the next day it wasn't. The smoking ban was that sudden. But in Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County, at least, compliance with the new law was nearly instantaneous and total.
Violating the ban is a petty offense, a $20 fine.
Since the law went into effect, Sioux Falls Police have written five citations, two in 2010, two in 2011 and one last year. Sheriff's deputies have written four, two in 2011, one last year and one this year.
"It's a real rarity we ever see anything in regard to the smoking ban," said Minnehaha County State's Attorney Aaron McGowan. Sioux Falls Police Chief Doug Barthel added: "It has basically been a nonissue for us for quite some time. It's a law that has gained voluntary compliance."
Overwhelming endorsement of the smoking ban by voters foreshadowed this. They approved it by a 64-36 margin in the 2010 general election. To get to that point, however, South Dakota endured a contentious year. In March 2009, the Legislature passed a smoking ban. Opponents, many from the video lottery industry, quickly organized a petition drive to overturn that action with a ballot initiative.
In July, however, Secretary of State Chris Nelson ruled that opponents fell 221 valid signatures short of getting the ban before voters. Opponents sued, and in November 2010, 6th Judicial Circuit Judge Kathleen Trandahl ruled that many of the signatures Nelson threw out had only minor flaws that should not have been invalidated. Nelson and Attorney General Marty Jackley declined to appeal Trandahl's ruling, and the smoking ban referendum was on the 2010 ballot. The day after Nelson certified the election results, the ban became effective.
The projected effect on public health was a weighty argument smoking ban proponents brought to the debate.
While Linda Ahrendt, administrator for the Office of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion for the South Dakota Department of Health, said more years of data are necessary to draw conclusive links between the smoking ban and public health, an analysis of hospital admissions for 2009, the year before the ban, and 2011, a year after the ban, is suggestive. Lon Kightlinger, State Epidemiologist, and Nato Tarkhashvili, an epidemiologist with the Department of Health, did the analysis.
In 2009, hospital admissions for several forms of heart disease, strokes and respiratory diseases totaled 11,489. In 2011, these had dropped to 10,382. This represented a cost savings of almost $5.5 million.
"Although these reductions in hospitalizations do not conclusively prove cause and effect, the association is strong evidence supporting the improved health benefits of smoke-free laws," Kightlinger and Tarkhashvili wrote. They plan a more comprehensive study when data from this year become available, said Barb Buhler of the Department of Health. More years of data might also disclose a relationship between the smoking ban and other diseases, such as cancer.
The state Department of Health has a goal of reducing the percentage of smokers in the state to 18 percent. Since 2010, it has hit that target. It is at an all-time low of 15.4 percent. The number of smokers in South Dakota peaked in 1998, when 27.2 percent of respondents to a health survey said they smoked.
The percentage of smokers in the Sioux Falls area peaked at 24 percent in 2002, said Mary Michaels, healthy community specialist with the Sioux Falls Health Department. By 2010, the latest year of available data, it had dropped to 11.7 percent.
The numbers resonate with the apparent widespread acceptance of the smoking ban.
"We have actually had no complaints here in our office," said Teri Ellis Schmidt, executive director of the Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau. "If anything, we occasionally hear from a group that they are glad our buildings are smoke-free."
Evan Nolte, president and CEO of the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, added the smoking ban "in many cases is viewed as a positive as far as people coming in for dining, refreshments, whatever. It's just a nice atmosphere."
Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether said, "I think, overall, economically it has been a real win for the people of Sioux Falls and South Dakota."
No public or private institution has attempted to measure the overall economic influence of the smoking ban, but Huether said anecdotally: "I think I've got a pretty good pulse on the people. I think I've got a pretty good pulse on business and economic development in Sioux Falls. My pulse is reading that smoke-free has been a good thing for those business owners that have been able to adjust and react accordingly. I think in many cases those businesses are busier, because now everyone is welcome."
Not everyone views the ban so favorably. Jim and Dayna McGuire dutifully trudged out of the Stop Light Lounge, 2501 E. 10th St., recently to light up on a nearby patio modestly furnished with a few tables and ash trays. Late afternoon was giving way to dusk and evening chill.
"I started smoking in Vietnam," he said. "I fought for the right to smoke."
Even the McGuires, though, acknowledge banning smoking in restaurants is reasonable. But he adds thoughtfully "where do your rights end and mine begin?"
He also said secondhand smoke ought to be an assumed risk for people who work in bars, and he is especially annoyed that veterans are prohibited from smoking in hospitals.
"If they had not fought, you would not have the right to make this stupid-ass law," he said.
His wife is more resigned to adjusting to the reality of the smoking ban.
"I still smoke," Dayna McGuire said. "I just smoke in different places. I recognize people in bars don't want to be exposed to this."
Having to go outside to smoke "is just inconvenient," she said.
Smoking ban opponents predicted a 20 percent drop in video lottery revenue if smoking was prohibited in bars and casinos, and they almost were dead-on in that projection. Video lottery net machine income in 2009 was $220.2 million, for a fiscal year running from July 1 to June 30. In 2010, it fell to $215.5 million.
Revenue continued to fall to last year, when it reached a low of $176.6 million.
"The smoking ban has had an adverse effect on some of our membership. It has affected their business and operating costs, and they have had to make adjustments accordingly," Cathy Berg said. She is executive director of the Licensed Beverage Dealers of South Dakota. Along with the Music and Vending Association and the South Dakota Association of Video Lottery Establishments, they represent the state's video lottery industry.
Various factors have been at work in the era of the smoking ban, and all have had an effect on video lottery revenue, industry spokesmen say. Even before the ban, revenue was declining. It peaked at $224.7 million in 2008.
Before the smoking ban, video lottery proprietors were offering gaming on the same type of machines that were available in 1989, when the state first authorized video lottery. Meanwhile, competition from casinos in other states, such as Grand Falls in Larchwood, Iowa, and on tribal reservations, had increased with new machines, more of them, higher bet limits and game rooms where smoking still was allowed. About the same time the smoking ban went into effect, the nation also was rocked by a severe recession.
Still, "when the smoking ban started, video lottery went down about 20 percent in my place. Others experienced the same thing," said Don Rose, a prominent smoking ban opponent who owns Shenanigan's Pub.
New machines he installed are getting played, Rose said, but the state missed an opportunity to drive new play by not highlighting the fact it was approving a new generation of video lottery machines.
"There was never a rollout that said, 'Look here, there's something new," Rose said.
Video lottery proprietors and state gaming officials are trying to settle on an agenda of legislative proposals to reinvigorate video lottery. They potentially include financial incentives for proprietors to invest in new machines, increasing the number of machines allowed in casinos and raising bet limits and maximum machine payouts. None of the strategic proposals being tested, however, involve rescinding the smoking ban, Larry Mann said. He represents the Association of Video Lottery Establishments.
"Among the guys I represent, nobody wants to go backwards," Mann said. "Now we're trying to figure out ways to move on and improve the business and attract new customers.
"My clients own close to half the machines in the state, and their attitude is 'the smoking ban is over and done. Let's move on.' "
At Shenanigans, Rose said he has been forced to cut staff, cut promotions and be creative in new promotions. Ironically, he said while eliminating the smoking ban three years after it was adopted might not do much to help him recoup that 20 percent drop in video lottery revenue, it could drive off people who come to Shenanigans because there is no smoking allowed.
"People say that every day," Rose said. "They're glad there is no smoke in here now."
Despite public health numbers suggesting otherwise, Rose has a nagging suspicion the ban hasn't done much to drive down smoking rates in South Dakota. Contemplating this annoys him. But like those who either hail the smoking ban or who grudgingly abide by it, he accepts it has become part of South Dakota's culture.
"I never liked smoking," Rose said. "But I knew it affected my business.
"Now, three years later, we talk about it in social circles and with business people," he said of the smoking ban. "But there's nothing we can do about it."