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Biloxi May Go Smoke-Free and Leave Casinos Outside the Rules

By Rhonda Miller | Published 08 Feb 2012 12:03am | comments
Attorney Edmund Walker of D'Iberville was never a smoker, but has lung disease normally found in a heavy smoker. He attributes the illness to second-hand smoke.

Forty-nine communities in Mississippi are smoke-free. Biloxi is considering joining the group, but as MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports, there’s controversy about whether casinos should be included.

"...being around smokers and breathing the same air..." The video of smoke-free businesses in Mississippi was one of the presentations to Biloxi City Council Tuesday as it reviewed a proposed ordinance prohibiting smoking in public places.  

Councilwoman Lucy Denton proposed the ordinance, but says smoke-free will not apply to the industry that contributes a big chunk of revenue to the city budget.

"We felt that we would totally eliminate casinos, because we are a tourist town and that it would be definite 'No' vote if we tried to go in tell the casinos that they had to have no smoking."

Many in the audience of 50 people were advocates for a smoke-free workplace, including Jennifer Cofer of the Mississippi chapter of the American Lung Association. Cofer says 22,000 people in Harrison County have lung disease, and with the casinos a major employer, she wants them to be included in the city’s smoke-free regulations.

"But a lot of people can’t help where they work or where they go in to eat or go into shop. And so providing smoke-free workplaces will reduce the risk of us being exposed to a trigger that could harm our breathing."

Executive Director of the Mississippi Gaming Association, Larry Gregory, says studies of other states show revenues drop 12 to 25 percent when smoking is prohibited in casinos.  Gregory says  Mississippi has fierce competition.

"From Florida or from Alabama or from the Native American Indians at the Choctaws, they will offer smoking , they have it now. People are going to  start making choices."

Attorney Edmund Walker believes the city needs to make a healthy choice for the public.  Walker arrived in a wheelchair, with an oxygen tube across his face. He told City Council he never smoked, but somewhere, he got the lung disease of a heavy smoker.

"Well, starting when I was a kid with my father smoking, and then in college in a fraternity house, and in the Air Force, then in bars, restaurants, casinos."

City Council will review input from the workshop and is expected to vote on the smoke-free issue in the next few weeks.

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Attorney Edmund Walker of D'Iberville was never a smoker, but has lung disease normally found in a heavy smoker. He attributes the illness to second-hand smoke.


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