Smoking ban’s application to casinos under debate

Throughout February, the Iowa legislature was debating a bill that would ban smoking in most indoor public facilities. The ban would include bars, restaurants, workplaces and any other indoor public commons areas. Similar smoking bans are already in effect in neighboring states such as Minnesota and Indiana, and a smoking ban was passed in Nebraska that will take effect this July. The bill passed in the Iowa house, but only after a revision that excluded casinos from the ban. Although the bill passed 55-44 in the house, the house and the senate still fail to see eye to eye on the exemptions. The smoking ban currently in the Iowa Legislature is very similar to a controversial smoking ban that was passed in the city of Ames in the early 2000s. Outraged by the smoking ban, a band of Ames bar owners sued the city of Ames, and the Iowa Supreme Court struck down the ban. For the time the ban was in effect, it gave a glimpse into what a smoking ban would mean for a city. “Sometimes it’s nice to eat in a smoke free environment,” senior Chan Liebman said, “but it’s easy to see how local bars can be devastated by a ban. Every business is different, and smoking may not be right for all, but it’s right for some. The owners know what’s best for their business and should be able to make that decision.” Ames is a perfect example of businesses and citizens in making their own decisions towards smoke free environments. The Story County Tobacco Task Force encouraged restaurants to remain smoke-free even after the Ames smoking ordinance was revoked. To date, 95 percent of Ames’s restaurants are smoke-free In order to get the majority vote to pass the smoking ban in the house, the bill had to be revised to exclude casinos from the smoking ban. The Iowa Gaming Commission estimated a 100 million-dollar loss in state and local government revenues if the bill was to include casinos. After the bill passed with the exemption, there was uproar of disapproval among business owners and patrons alike. “It makes the whole ban worthless if they exempt the casinos,” Liebman said. “They’re basically saying the black jack dealer’s lungs are less important than everybody else’s because he gives the state more money. I thought it was the Iowa House of Representatives.” Although the bill was passed with the casino exemption in the house, the Iowa Senate removed the casino exemption, and it passed with a vote of 29-21. The bill will go back to the house as revised by the senate, but it will be much more difficult for it to pass again in the house without the casino exemption.