Larry Mann walks out of the Franklin hotel in Deadwood, South Dakota talking about those who would ban smoking here.
"They're ridiculous," he says, calling smoking a "national pastime" in this traditional western town."If you look back over the history of Deadwood, smoking would probably be one of the safer things to do."
He points out residents have been smoking in Deadwood bars long before Wild Bill Hickock was murdered here in 1876, and he calls it a "basic civil liberties issue."
"We think it's an intrusion of government to tell business owners how to run their businesses." Mann is a longtime Deadwood institution and is now a spokesman for Deadwood's gaming industry, which is supporting a referendum that would preserve the right to smoke in Deadwood's bars and Casinos.
Mann says smoking bans always hurt casino businesses. "They go directly to reduce revenue," he says as he walks with a reporter down Main Street. "[They] make operations difficult if not impossible to make a profit."
The ballot proposal would exempt casinos from a law that bans puffing cigarettes in all places of employment in South Dakota. South Dakota actually passed a "no smoking" law 6 years ago, but up until last year Casinos had been exempt.
"Of course, I think we should ban smoking in casinos," says John Banzhaff, "just as we banned smoking in bars and restaurants and for exactly the same reason." Banzhaff is from Action on Smoking and Health, one of the largest anti-smoking groups in the country.
"Smoking kills," he says. "We need to get rid of it everywhere we can." Banzhaff says even if Wild Bill had survived his gunfight, he may well have met an early death from hanging out in a smokey Deadwood bar. "Second-hand smoke kills over 50,000 people every year, according to the federal government. And it disables tens of millions more."
Mann's not buying it, claiming the deadly effects of secondhand smoke are not scientifically proven."It's a political slogan," he says. "I don't think there's any evidence that it produces the kind of [effects they say.]"
"Deadwood is a town where people feel free," Mann says. "We want it to remain that way."