Minner remembered for pursuit of Delaware indoor smoking ban

By Leann Schenke
Posted 11/7/21

Anyone who’s lost a loved one can relate — the first day without them is reserved for mourning, the second day is spent reminiscing.

That’s how Thursday and Friday went for Gov. …

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Minner remembered for pursuit of Delaware indoor smoking ban


Anyone who’s lost a loved one can relate — the first day without them is reserved for mourning, the second day is spent reminiscing.

That’s how Thursday and Friday went for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner’s longtime friend and secretary of state, Harriet Smith Windsor, who said she will remember her friend for the compassion and conviction she brought to government.

“Ruth Ann Minner and I go back a long way,” Ms. Windsor said Friday.

Former Gov. Minner, who spent 35 years of her life serving Delawareans, passed away Thursday. Gov. Minner was the “American dream come true” — or at least that’s how former President Bill Clinton once described her at a reception held in her honor while she campaigned for governor, Ms. Windsor said.

“I’ll never forget he said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I am telling you that I’ve never heard a real story like this woman’s,’” Ms. Windsor said.

Ms. Windsor said it was Gov. Minner’s upbringing as the daughter of a sharecropper in Milford that informed many of her goals when she got into government.

“I think because of that, she was always seeking to do those things that would help as many people,” Ms. Windsor said.

One of those legislative accomplishments that she championed because she felt it benefited the greater good was signing into law the Clean Indoor Air Act that banned smoking in workplaces and most indoor venues, including bars and restaurants.

The act was the second of its kind in the country, second only to legislation in California. It went into effect on Nov. 27, 2002.

Delaware Senate Bill 99 also was seen as more comprehensive than California’s, and Ms. Windsor said it became a sort of blueprint for other states in crafting their own bills against smoking indoors.

Ms. Windsor said that after losing her husband to lung cancer, Gov. Minner took the risk of signing the then-controversial legislation into law even if it meant losing her chance at reelection.

“She knew it was the right thing to do,” Ms. Windsor said.

A costly move?

Ms. Windsor shared the anecdote of being in Legislative Hall on June 30, 2002, the last day of the legislative session.

“There was a lot of talk about the smoking ban bill,” Ms. Windsor said. “A number of her staff had been talking about the fact that maybe she should wait until the second term to do that because it could cost her the election.”

Ms. Windsor said Gov. Minner’s staff was “getting nowhere” with her and the idea of delaying the bill. Her staff asked Ms. Windsor if she’d take it up with Gov. Minner.

“I remember looking at her and saying, ‘Well Governor, I’m just a little concerned,’” Ms. Windsor said.

She said she told Gov. Minner she thought the smoking ban was a terrific idea, but that it could cost her the election.

“I said, ‘You know, not everyone is in agreement with you on this. It’s quiet the controversy,’” Ms. Windsor said. “She listened, she listened most carefully and then she looked at me and she said, ‘Harriet, I really appreciate your caring enough about me and the future.’”

Gov. Minner then asked Ms. Windsor, “Suppose we don’t get a second term?

“Then this won’t get done and it needs to get done. This is an important thing to do for the state of Delaware,” Ms. Windsor remembered Gov. Minner saying.

“Of course as it turns out, it was a map for the country in many ways,” Ms. Windsor said.

Ms. Windsor said Gov. Minner was gracious and nice, but firm in her resolution that the act needed to become law.

“She said, ‘It’s the right thing to do,’” Ms. Windsor said. “That was her slogan — it’s the right thing to do. We need to help as many people as we possibly can. It’s the right thing to do.”

Taking the heat

Greg Patterson, who currently is chief of staff for the Delaware Department of Environmental Control, spent eight and half years working for Gov. Minner — as her campaign manager during her run for governor and communications director for all of her first term and some of second term as governor.

Like Ms. Windsor, Mr. Patterson said Gov. Minner’s accomplishments are tied to her life story.

“The hardships that she went through in the early part of her life, you can see, shaped the priorities and her accomplishments,” he said.

He said the Clean Indoor Air Act was “absolutely a controversial issue at the time.” He said that despite her hometown being Milford and her base being the downstate area, she experienced heavy opposition due to the smoking ban.

“The opposition to the smoking ban was much more Downstate,” he said. “In a way she was taking a stand that hurt her with the people that had supported her and been with her for all of her career. She thought it was the right thing to do and she was willing to take the consequences.”

Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, who has served in the Senate since 2012 and was a representative in the House from 2002 to 2012, spoke to that opposition.

“To be honest, that is the reason why I am here,” he said Friday. “My opponent, Shirley Price, the representative at the time, supported it (Clean Indoor Air Act) and my district was totally against it. If it wasn’t for that Clean Indoor Air Act, and her voting for it, I am sure I would not have been here.”

Opponents to the effort created “Ban Ruth Ann” bumper stickers, and supporters countered with “Keep the Ban and Ruth Ann” stickers.

Despite his opposition, Sen. Hocker said he now appreciates Gov. Minner’s accomplishment.

“I will say now that I have seen it work — I am not a smoker, and I am glad that there is no smoking in, especially restaurants, or even in my own place of business. When you look back on it, I think it was a big piece of legislation,” he said. “But at the time, the way they hurried it through, people weren’t just ready for it.”

Longtime Kent legislator Nancy Cook, who served as a state senator from 1974 to 2010, worked closely with Gov. Minner. She called her a colegislator and a friend.

“Her milestones were many,” she said, noting her oversight of the Senate Natural Resources committee, work with the cancer consortium, the open space bill and the Clean Indoor Air Act.

“The smoking bill, which was very controversial at the time, and obviously now is something to be very proud of,” she said.

Smoking rates

Health officials lauded the ban, noting statistics that show the impact it has had.

Youth cigarette smoking prevalence decreased in the years following the passage of the act, from 32.2% in 1999 to 18.3% in 2011, according to the Delaware Division of Public Health’s 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Smoking rates are currently at an all-time low. The youth rate is at 4%, according to DPH’s Delaware Youth Tobacco Survey in 2018, while the adult rate is down to 15.1% in 2020, per DPH.

“The statistics are clear that this single act, which former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner championed, prevented countless Delawareans from starting smoking and resulted in numerous individuals quitting the deadly habit since its passage,” said DPH director Dr. Karyl Rattay. “It not only improved the indoor air quality for all residents and visitors to our state, it has saved lives in Delaware and it will continue to do so for years to come. I cannot think of a more important legacy than that.”

The 2012 Delaware Adult Tobacco Survey asked individuals specifically about the 10-year anniversary of the CIAA and 82.1% of Delaware adults responded that the Clean Indoor Air Act has had a positive impact on their own quality of life. An additional 12.2% of adults reported the law has had no impact on their lives, while 3% felt the impact on their quality of life has been negative.

According to the same survey, 90.8% of respondents agreed with the statement, “The law has helped protect people from secondhand smoke.”

In 2015, the CIAA was amended to include e-cigarettes.

Data from the 2020-21 Adult Tobacco Survey showed Delawareans’ attitudes regarding second-hand smoke still consistent almost 20 years after the CIAA was established as 88% adults in Delaware agreed “people should be protected against secondhand smoke” and 81% believed people should be protected from breathing vapors from other people’s e-cigarettes.

Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, released a statement Friday remembering Gov. Minner as a champion for clean air.

“We mourn the passing of Gov. Minner, who was a true champion for the right to breathe clean air free of secondhand smoke in workplaces and public places, including casinos,” Ms. Hallett said.

“Because of her commitment and leadership, Delaware saved countless lives by passing the Clean Indoor Air Act in 2002 and fought efforts led by gaming and Big Tobacco to roll it back just a year later.”

“Delaware has shown that industry’s sky-is-falling predictions of doom and gloom by going smoke-free fail to materialize, and Gov. Minner offers an example that elected leaders around the country should follow. Gov. Minner showed that prioritizing the health and well-being of its residents and visitors is always the right thing to do.”

Staff writers Tim Mastro and Glenn Rolfe contributed to this story.

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