Smoking would be illegal inside and within 50 feet of almost all of Iowa's public places under a proposal that moved ahead Tuesday in the Iowa House.
The proposal, House Study Bill 537, also prohibits smoking in enclosed locations that are places of employment. It exempts some hotels, tobacco stores, semi-private rooms in long-term-care facilities, and homes, except those used as child-care facilities.
"It's a public health issue," said Rep. Tyler Olson, a Cedar Rapids Democrat who led discussion on the bill. "I get a lot of people saying, 'Well, why don't you ban greasy foods?' There's obviously a case to be made for that, but when you're sitting down eating a cheeseburger, you're not affecting the person next to you who is having a salad."
Violators could be fined up to $500. The bill passed the House Commerce Committee on Tuesday on a 16-6 vote.
The idea is just one of the anti-smoking proposals before lawmakers this year.
Another, House File 2067, would allow cities and counties to pass their own ordinances to prohibit smoking in all or some public places. But opponents and advocates alike say there would be little need for House File 2067 if the statewide smoking ban were approved.
Culver supports the proposal to allow cities and counties to pass their own ordinances. Brad Anderson, a spokesman for the governor, said Culver would consider the statewide ban.
Some similar types of legislation that would have restricted tobacco use have failed to gain approval in recent legislative sessions. Legislators last year did approve increasing the cigarette tax from 36 cents to $1.36 a pack.
Wes Ehrecke, president of the Iowa Gaming Association, a trade group for Iowa's state-regulated casinos, successfully urged lawmakers Tuesday to exempt casinos from the statewide ban. Banning smoking in casinos would likely reduce state revenue from gaming taxes by as much as $100 million a year, according to estimates from his group. In addition, he noted that casinos have powerful ventilation systems to curb harmful effects of smoking.
Other groups, including representatives from the Iowa Department of Public Health and the American Lung Association, spoke against such exemptions Tuesday, saying that even the best ventilation systems aren't as good as a complete ban.
Rep. Chuck Soderberg, a Le Mars Republican and a member of the House Human Resources Committee, said allowing each city and county to set its ow ordinance would create confusion. He voted against moving ahead such legislation. He noted that, potentially, more than 1,000 city and county ordinances could be enacted under the proposal.
"In that scenario, how would people know what ordinances were passed?" Soderberg said.
Rep. Steve Lukan, a New Vienna Republican, said he worries that the statewide ban would be too far-reaching, particularly with small businesses.
"You're making them, potentially, enforcement agents of state law," Lukan said.
Craig Walter, a lobbyist for the Iowa Restaurant Association, said his group is opposed to both proposals. Restaurant owners and consumers should be free to make their own determinations about how to handle smoking, he said.
Reporter Jason Clayworth can be reached at (515) 699-7058 or email@example.com