Effort to ban smoking in Iowa casinos stalls

Effort would lift 2008 exemption from state's Clean Indoor Air Act

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March 28, 2014 | 11:22 am

UPDATE: Hopes for anti-tobacco forces to ban smoking at the gambling floors of state-regulated casino were left smoldering Tuesday when a Senate subcommittee decided to delay action to gather more information.

Senate Study Bill 1107 seeks to lift the exemption from Iowa’s Clean Indoor Air Act that took effect July 1, 2008.

Dr. Richard Deming, a radiation oncologist who is medical director of the Mercy Cancer Center in Des Moines, told subcommittee members that “Iowa was on the forefront of forward-thinking” when the Legislature and former Gov. Chet Culver agreed to ban smoking in most public areas and workplaces – with the exception of gambling areas and the Iowa Veterans Home.

Deming said there are more than 3,400 lung cancer deaths and 46,000 heart attack deaths annually associated with the detrimental effects of second-hand smoke, as well as significant costs related to illnesses and employee absenteeism.

“Iowans who have to work should not have to choose between their health and a pay check,” he said.

However, Wes Ehrecke, president of the Iowa Gaming Association, which represents 18 commercial casinos licensed by the state to operate in Iowa, said casinos have been very proactive in installing air filtration systems for the benefit of their customers and employees.

He also noted that state-regulated casinos in Iowa would be put at a competitive disadvantage by three Native American casinos that are not subject to Iowa’s Clean Indoor Air Act.

Lifting the exemption on gaming floors would cause a 20 percent drop in casino revenues, which would have a $60 million to $80 million decline in the $330 million in state taxes the facilities pay annually. He also projected that a smoking ban would cause up to 1,500 casino employees with a $40 million yearly payroll to lose their jobs in an industry that collectively is Iowa’s largest tourism attraction.

Cathy Callaway of the American Cancer Society noted that all of Iowa’s surrounding states except Missouri are 100 percent smoke free and that 500 state-regulated casinos in 20 states have banned smoking. She said research has indicated that the only effective way to remove harmful effects of second-hand smoke is to remove the smoking.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, the subcommittee’s leader who supports the measure, said she planned to schedule a follow-up meeting after Sen. Bill Anderson, R-Pierson, declined to sign the subcommittee report and Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, said he needed more time to gather additional information. Petersen noted that a similar bill has been introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee and she might try to move that version forward if the prospects for passage were better in that committee.

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