NOTIONS: Surefire CPR for the high cost of government

November 26, 2007

Last Saturday, my wife Cherí and awoke to a beautiful fall day. Having no o b l i g a t i o n s , w decided to take spontaneous trip to Orange County, to see the restored West Baden Springs Hotel

Despite the rash of stoplights on State Road 37 and a flurry of pre-game traffic for the Old Oaken Bucket clash, the drive was a breeze.

Cherí had never been to West Baden Springs. So the beautifully restored hotel, dubbed "The Eighth Wonder of the World" in its early-1900s heyday, had visions of Gatsby and Garbo dancing in her head.

We marveled at the massive dome (the largest in the world at the time it was built), walked through elegant restaurants, peeked into the spacious spa and toured a luxurious hotel room. Then we hopped on the shuttle, visited the French Lick Hotel and grabbed lunch at the Grand Collonade Buffet.

Besides the generosity of benefactors Bill and Gayle Cook, and the persistence of the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, a key factor in this project's promise is a casino. So after lunch, we decided to make like Woodward and Bernstein and "follow the money."

Someone much smarter than me has determined that people willing to risk their dollars are also more likely to risk their lives.

Or maybe it's vice versa: People willing to risk their lives are more likely to risk their money.

These same savants have determined that many people are desperate enough for employment that they'll also risk their lives for a job-any job.

So as Cherí and I rode up the escalator and crossed the sky bridge from the Collonade to the casino, the smell of smoke grew stronger and stronger.

Inside, we wandered around the richly carpeted floor, peeked in at blackjack, watched the roulette wheels revolve and tried to figure out how the craps table worked. Occasionally, we'd slide a dollar into a slot machine and take turns spinning the wheel. For a nanosecond, we got ahead in one game. Then our puny pot of cash dwindled to nothing.

In our half hour tour of the tables, there was no clash of coins as seen on TV. There was, however, an ashtray at every slot and a cigarette dangling from many a hand. I wondered aloud how anyone could work in that environment and live to tell about it.

To clear the fumes from our clothing and skin, we walked across the meadow, back to the West Baden Springs Hotel and our car.

On Monday morning, I received an email from a friend at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Attached were results of research comparing the number of heart attacks among nonsmokers in two Indiana counties.

In Monroe County, a smoking ban covering all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, had gone into effect halfway into the 44-month study.

In the control location, Delaware County, there was no smoking ban during the study period.

The results: After Monroe's countywide smoking ban was implemented, hospital admissions for heart attacks dropped 70 percent for nonsmokers, but not for smokers.

"The benefits of the ban appear to come more from the reduced exposure to secondhand smoke among nonsmokers than from reduced consumption of tobacco among smokers," said Dong-Chul Seo, lead author of the study, and an assistant professor in IU Bloomington's Department of Applied Health Science.

"Exposure to secondhand smoke for just 30 minutes can rapidly increase a person's risk for heart attack, even if they have no risk factors," said the IU announcement. "The smoke, which contains carbon monoxide, causes blood vessels to constrict and reduces the amount of oxygen that can be transported in the blood."

"What concerns us is the fact that about half of all non-smoking Americans are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, even though more than 500 municipalities nationwide have adopted some form of a smoking ban in public places," Seo said. Including Cherí and me on a beautiful fall day in French Lick. I recently testified before the Indiana Health Finance Commission-a group of state senators and representatives considering health legislation for the upcoming session. One such measure is a statewide smoking ban.

Before I spoke in support of such a ban, the legislators weighed in. Someone moved that even if a statewide ban is advanced in the General Assembly, it should exempt casinos. The motion carried without objection.

We're clamoring in Indiana for ways to reduce government costs. One of government's biggest expenses, of course, is health care.

So if you're serious about reducing taxes, join me in advocating a statewide smoking ban that covers all workplaces-including bars and casinos. A 70-percent statewide reduction in non-smoker heart attacks would, in and of itself, save millions of taxpayer dollars annually.

That would be as impressive as the dome at West Baden Springs.

Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com
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