Petitions filed to put SD smoking ban to vote

Casino owners and others opposed to expanding the state’s smoking ban filed petitions Monday that could have enough signatures to require a public vote on the issue.

The law passed earlier this year by the South Dakota Legislature would ban smoking in bars, casinos in historic Deadwood and video lottery establishments. It extends a ban that has outlawed smoking in workplaces and most public areas since 2002.

The expansion is scheduled to take effect July 1. But the start date would be delayed until after next year’s election if opponents have enough signatures to call for a vote.

Petitions with an estimated 25,000 signatures were submitted to Secretary of State Chris Nelson by a coalition representing bars and gambling establishments. If the documents contain at least 16,776 valid signatures, the smoking ban will go on the November 2010 ballot for a statewide vote.

The ban’s opponents say it goes too far, would deprive business owners of the right to decide what happens in their establishments and could drive away customers who smoke.

“It’s tough to be in business and be locked away from 25 to 30 percent of your market. It puts them at a distinct disadvantage,” said Larry Mann, a Video Lottery Establishments of South Dakota lobbyist who heads the coalition that gathered the signatures.

Supporters of the ban said the health hazard posed by cigarette smoke takes precedence over business owners’ rights.

“This is about health. Everybody has the right to breathe free air and shouldn’t have to worry about their health when they walk into any building in this state,” said Dr. Allen Nord of Rapid City, chairman of the South Dakota Tobacco-Free Kids Network.

The ban’s supporters reserve the right to review and challenge the signatures if the secretary of state’s office certifies the measure for the ballot, Nord said.

But he also said he believes voters would approve the ban if it went to a vote because recent polls have showed about two-thirds of the state’s residents support it.

“We feel pretty confident we can win,” he said. “We will, however, fight this aggressively and not take anything for granted.”

The secretary of state’s office will check a random sample of 5 percent of the signatures to determine whether the documents include enough valid signatures to put the ban on the ballot.

Nelson said his office will try to have the checks done or nearly done by the end of this week.

“We’re going to give this obviously top priority this week,” he said.


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