The state’s hospitality industry is lobbying against a bill that would give Iowa counties and cities the authority to ban smoking in bars and restaurants. Iowa Gaming Association president Wes Ehrecke says the state’s casinos would take a financial hit if anti-smoking ordinances were adopted in their locales.
"The tribal casinos would be exempt here in the state with any type of a smoking ban plus if there are surrounding states, certainly Minnesota and Wisconsin –it’s all tribal casinos there, so if they were even to pass a smoking ban, they would be exempt," Ehrecke says. "Since we have about 20 million visitors and 65 percent of them come from out-of-state, it would put us at a significant competitive disadvantage."
Ehrecke also warns the casinos will wind up paying less in state taxes. Ehrecke says based on the experience of casinos in places like Canada, Australia and Delaware where smoking bans have been enacted, Iowa casinos would pay up to 100-million dollars less in state taxes if they’re forced to go smoke-free. Ehrecke says experience indicates smokers would go gamble at the Native American casinos which are only subject to tribal rules, and where smoking would still be allowed.
"In other states and jurisdictions where they’ve banned smoking where there are casinos, such as in Delaware or in Ontario, Canada, there’s been between a 15 and 33 percent drop in revenue," Ehrecke says. A spokesman for the Iowa Restaurant Association says diners will be confused if smoking ordinances change from city to city.
University of Iowa professor Christopher Squier has the opposing view. "All sorts of things change from city to city. I just don’t buy that at all. It can be clearly posted, but heck, speed limits change every block," Squier says. Squier, who conducts cancer research, says polls show the public wants protection from second-hand smoke.
"Not only do people know fully the risks of second-hand smoke — and that’s something like 90-percent-plus of the population, but 70 percent say we do need protection from second-hand smoke," Squier says. Some restaurant and bar owners say they’ll lose customers — and lose money — if they’re forced to go smoke-free. Squier says a report on Iowa City’s brief experiment with a smoking ban in bars and restaurants will be released today.
The smoke-free ordinance in Iowa City lasted just about a year, and the study found the smoking ban had "no economic impact," according to Squier. Doctor Frank Chaloupka, a national expert on the economics of smoking, says the data from dozens of studies shows that while some smokers are discouraged from going out to eat or drink because of a smoking ban, there are even more non-smokers who go out to enjoy the smoke-free environment.
"In communities and states across the country where they have gone smoke-free, you don’t see a negative economic impact," Chaloupka says. "If anything, you do see small gains for restaurants." Legislators are considering a bill that would let Iowa cities and counties enact ordinances that ban smoking in local bars and restaurants. Current Iowa law forbids local smoking regulations that are more strict that state law.