The Crusader Newspaper Group

Smoking ban ordinance goes up in flames

Crusader staff report

Gary Councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade on Monday, Nov. 20, withdrew her support and sponsorship from a proposed ordinance that would have banned smoking inside Majestic Star Casinos.

The announcement drew cheers from dozens of protestors, who say the ban would cost the city hundreds of jobs and hurt one of its most profitable entertainment venues. Sparks-Wade and many supporters said the ordinance served to promote good health among non-smokers and protect them from second-hand smoke.

Indiana already has a smoke-free air law that prohibits smoking in the workplace and many public places, but casinos, bars, and taverns are not included in the ban. Gary sought to ban smoking in all public places and offices.

Lori Latham, the campaign coordinator for Smoke-Free in the G group, argued that city officials are obligated to help provide a better quality of life for casino employees and make sure they are working in a healthy environment.

Sparks-Wade said she withdrew the ordinance because it’s a state issue rather than imposing one in the city. Sparks-Wade said she was concerned about the potential loss of jobs and revenue if the proposed ordinance became a law.

At one recent council meeting, CEO of Majestic Star Casinos Peter Liguori said a smoking ban at his two casinos would cause a reduction of more than half a million trips a year. He also said the damage could result in a 35 percent loss in annual revenues. Liguori said the city could lose $3 million every year in gaming tax revenue and 375 of the casino’s 1,000 employees could be out of work because of the proposed ban.

Liguori said about a third of the workers at the casino are from Gary and receive comprehensive health coverage. Liguori also noted that nearly two floors of the six story building are restricted to the nonsmoker.

Liguori and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the proposed smoking ban would put Gary at a disadvantage to those in East Chicago and Hammond.

About 26 towns, colleges and counties in Indiana have implemented smoking bans of their own on top of the one passed by the state. Elkhart passed one in 2008 to prohibit smoking in all workplaces and restaurants. In January, South Bend passed an ordinance banning smoking in all workplaces, bars and restaurants.

This year, a federal smoking ban in 940,000 public housing households across the country went into effect. U.S. officials said second-hand smoke can expose nonsmokers to health problems, especially children, who are vulnerable to asthma attacks, respiratory infections, and ear infections. In 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that “separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke.” The only way to do it is by banning indoor smoking altogether. He also said smoking indoors also increases the risk of fires, and it costs housing authorities millions of dollars in repairs, renovations, and property damage.

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