Cedar Rapids Gazette
April 16. 2008
by: James Q. Lynch
Smoking foes say they'll next target casino exemption
DES MOINES — Superlatives flew at the Capitol as supporters celebrated as Gov. Chet Culver signed smoke-free workplace legislation into law on Tuesday.
"Monumental," "landmark" and "historical" were among the words Culver and others used to describe House File 2212, which limits indoor workplace smoking to the gaming floor of casinos. Nearly all other indoor workplaces, including bars and restaurants, must be smoke-free beginning July 1.
"My goal is to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation," Culver said as he signed the Smoke-Free Air Act in the Capitol Rotunda before a crowd of hundreds.
By setting aside partisan differences, he said, the Legislature had joined "together with one common purpose: to build a healthier Iowa."
Rather than mark the end of a battle, however, the celebration may be just a lull in the decades-old fight to restrict smoking in Iowa.
As well-wishers congratulated former Cedar Rapids Rep. Jim Wells, who introduced anti-smoking legislation in 1975, Dan Ramsey of the American Lung Association was vowing to seek further restrictions next year.
"We'll be coming after casinos," Ramsey said, adding the lung association will continue returning to the Legislature "until we protect all Iowans from secondhand smoke."
Freshman Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, the bill's floor manager, made clear all along he wanted no exemptions in the bill. The casino exemption, he said, reflects the political reality of the Legislature.
"We had to do exemptions to get this monumental health policy done," Olson said. "The discussion will come up every year, and we'll see what can be done."
That comes as no surprise to Wes Ehrecke, president of the Iowa Gaming Association. Casino operators argued a ban would put them at a competitive disadvantage with tribal casinos in Iowa and neighboring states that allow smoking.
Ehrecke's group will be ready for the next round in the fight, he said. It will continue to "educate the legislators and public on the importance of accommodating both smokers and nonsmokers," Ehrecke said. Air-handling equipment in casinos, especially in new casinos, provides gamblers an atmosphere with "acceptable indoor air quality," he said.
However, for some lawmakers the question isn't the indoor air quality or workplace safety, but the "brazenness" of giving casinos an exemption.
"This is the best darn bill casino money could buy," said Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who opposed the bill because he believed it usurped Iowan's property rights.
The state gets about $220 million a year from casino revenues, said Rep. Scott Raecker, R-Urbandale, a member of the Appropriations Committee. Lawmakers had received estimates that banning smoking in casinos could result in a $30 million loss.
"The state is addicted to the revenue," Raecker said.
It may not be a matter of addiction but the "big presence" casinos have in those communities where they are located, said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville.
Casinos create jobs, support local government and non-profits and, in return, the communities, and their legislators support the casinos, Dvorsky said.
The move to ban smoking in casinos might not come from the Legislature, but it will come, Dvorsky predicted.
"The Legislature is largely a reactive body," he said. "So this may come up from the grass-roots. The people who frequent casinos may decide they don't like the smoke."
Public sentiment is changing, said Peggy Huppert of the American Cancer Society, "and I don't care how good their air filtration systems are, casinos may find (smoking) hurts business."
Or it could come in the form of a lawsuit by a casino worker who claims to have been harmed by secondhand smoke, something that has happened elsewhere, she said.
Huppert said the Colorado Legislature came back the year after a smoking ban to remove the casino exemption.