Smoking ban clears statehouse; 3 area reps. vote no

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Legislature approved a broad statewide ban on indoor smoking Tuesday that supporters said would save countless lives, boost public health and protect thousands of Iowa workers.

Local senator Steve Kettering was one of 19 Republican senators voting against the measure, which exempted casinos. Local representatives Gary Worthan and Dan Huseman, both also Republicans, voted no in the House.

The bill heads to Gov. Chet Culver, who has pledged to sign it into law. That means thousands of bars, restaurants and other public facilities will likely become smoke-free by July 1.

At Storm Lake eating and drinking establishments, the reaction was decidedly mixed Wednesday.

"To a degree I feel it is fair but to another degree from the smoker's perspective you're alienating them too. It's kind of infringing on their rights as far as going out to eat somewhere," said Cindy Bosley, owner of Boz-Wellz, which currently has smoking and non-smoking designated areas.

"For restaurants I can see it more than bars because you have families. Maybe they could change the hours that they could smoke, like after 11," Bosley said.

"I think it will hurt a little bit but if it (a smoking ban) is everywhere there's nothing you can really do about it," adds Angie Johnson, waitress at Martini's Bar & Grill. Currently customers can only smoke in the bar portion of that establishment.

"Personally I don't smoke and inhaling second hand smoke can kill a person," said Monty Reinking, manager at Malarky's Pub, "but from a business standpoint I think it will damper the crowd." Currently Malarky's has smoking and non-smoking designated areas.

Rep. Gary Worthan, Storm Lake, explained his vote against the high-profile smoking ban, saying that he had "always approached this as an individual rights issue."

"Basically it is up to the businessman to decide what kind of establishment he wanted to run. I have no problem with a smoking ban in publc places, and in placed where people are forced to go to do business, like a courthouse. But when it comes to restaurants, bars and those kind of things, we're just stepping on people's toes here," Worthan said.

He said that he was also upset that casinos were exempted from the rules. "These casinos are pretty much run by big corporations out of places like Las Vegas and New Jersey - so all we are doing is putting local Iowa businesspeople at a disadvantage against out of state corporations."

Worthan said he had heard as much on the smoking bas issue from his constitutents as he has ever seen on any issue in his term in the legislature.

"The opinions have gone both ways - I'd say about 50/50," he said.

Strangely, he said, he has heard very little from smokers back in his home district. "Many of the e-mails I have had say that they are not smokers, and don't care to be in businesses that allow smoking, but that they don't think it is the government's place to dictate."

One of his Storm Lake constituents is currently working as a blackjack delaer at a casino in Council Bluffs, and Worthan said he shares his concerns about the casino exemption.

"So why is the health of an employee on the casino floor any less important than the health of a worker in a bar or a restaurant?" he asked.

While the vote wasn't totally along party lines, in general, the opposition was led by Republicans, while the majority of Democrats in both houses were strongly in support.

"I'm a former smoker and I watched tobacco shorten the lives of both of my parents, so this is personal to me," said Rep. Phil Wise, D-Keokuk. "This is a life and death issue."

Initially, each house passed very different versions of the bill. Bargainers from the House and Senate worked into Monday night negotiating a compromise that included the casinos, which help to fund state government.

Assuming that Culver signs the bill into law, the action may save a local controversy over the same issue.

The Buena Vista County Department of Health's anti-smoking advocate Nona Sand had been gearing up to take the issue of a local public smoking ban to the Board of Health, in hopes of proposing a vote to the county supervisors, following the efforts of other Iowa municipalities that have attempted bans, though they have little teeth without state backing.

"We were just looking for the legislature to pass something that would give cities and counties the local power to make their own rules on smoking if the people wish to," Sand said earlier. "It was the governor who took it a step further and asked for the statewide ban, and we thought that was great - if it could get passed."

Smoking Ban Exemptions

* Casino gambling areas (not casino restaurants and bars)

* The Iowa Veterans Home at Marshalltown

* Private residences, unless used for child care or health care

* Hotels and motels are allowed to set aside 20 percent of their rooms for smokers

* Retail tobacco stores, private clubs that have no employees

* Private and semi-private rooms in long-term care facilities

* Outdoor areas that are places of employment

* Hired limousines, farm tractors and farm trucks while in use

* Enclosed areas within a place of employment that provides a smoking cessation program.

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