Anti-smoking advocates move focus to civic clubs

Published 11:02 am Thursday, April 17, 2014

Civic organizations are the next places anti-smoking advocates will keep their push alive for an indoor smoking ban in Vicksburg, a key spokeswoman for the effort said Wednesday.

Such an effort could afford opportunities for members of such donation-driven groups to voice their opinion on the issue, said Tosha Taylor, an advocate of Smokefree Mississippi during an address to the Vicksburg Lions Club.

“We need organizations like yourself to sign on in support of a smoke-free initiative in Vicksburg,” Taylor said. “If this is something you support as an individual, here’s the opportunity to do so.”

Taylor passed along a petition to club officials. Some members said clubs such as Lions, which depend on donations to fulfill a charitable mission, would run the risk of turning off too many corporate donors. Tops on that list locally is the gaming industry, a reliable opponent of government-led bans on indoor smoking.

In Vicksburg, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen has considered similar regulations but declined action. The most recent formal case for a citywide ban was in March 2013, when the board split on whether to call a referendum on the matter.

Smokefree Mississippi has lobbied hard for anti-smoking bans in Mississippi cities since 2002. This month, two cities, Louisville and Mendenhall, joined the list of municipalities that have gone smoke-free in restaurants and bars, bringing the total of smoke-free cities to 80. Many of the ordinances passed in the past decade have overlaid existing local laws against lighting up in businesses and public buildings, such as courthouses. The biggest cities along the Mississippi River, where 18 of the state’s 30 casinos operate, haven’t adopted such ordinances.

Taylor acknowledged politics hinders the process each time the organization pushes to have smoking bans enacted.

“We have spoken with a lot of civic organizations and realized that it’s a process,” Taylor said, adding the advocacy group disputes claims from the casino industry that smoking bans hurt their financial bottom lines.

“They operate casinos in other states that are smoke-free; they’re building new casinos there.”

The advocacy group has moved its marketing efforts in its flyers to casino employees. Taylor cited an air quality study from the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University that showed air quality levels in a non-smoking floor of a Vicksburg casino in a day’s time were nearly as high as levels measured where smoking was allowed. The study did not name the casino.

“What’s the difference between a person working in a government building and a person who chooses to go to work every day in a restaurant, bar or casino?” Taylor said. “There’s no difference in terms of lives and health.”