State legislators are considering a variety of bills that would either ban smoking statewide or give local governments the authority to adopt bans. Groups on both sides of the issue filled a statehouse committee room Wednesday to speak up about the issue. Des Moines nurse practitioner, Lorene Mein, closed her clinic so she could talk to lawmakers about banning smoking.
Mein says workers are having to choose between their health and a paycheck and a lot of these people in bars and restaurants don’t have any health insurance and then they get to come see me and I get to say "you know what – you get to be on an inhaler that costs an hundred dollars a month they don’t have any health insurance to pay for it – so guess how compliant they are."
Mein compares second-hand smoke to another cancer-causing substance. She says second-hand smoke is in the same category as asbestos, and Mein says if you would not sit in a restaurant where people were breathing out asbestos, why would you subject them to second-hand smoke. A lobbyist for the Principal Financial Group also urged lawmakers to adopt a statewide ban, arguing it would make Iowa more attractive to progressive businesses and cut down on healthcare costs.
But a lobbyist for the Iowa Gaming Association, Bill Wimmer, says a smoking ban in the workplace would have a serious economic impact on Iowa casinos. Wimmer says, "No matter what you do in this statute, there are venues in this state that you are not going to be able to impact, and those would be the native American casinos and they are our competition and we’ve fought for a long time to get a level playing field with them and we would ask you to keep that in mind."
Craig Walter of the Iowa Restaurant Association says businesses should be allowed to decide the smoking issues for themselves. "As long as you make it a legal product, why should you ban a business from the opportunity to get those customers in that chose to go there?, Walter says. Walter says 80-percent of the restaurant industry is already smoke-free, so consumers have choices if they want to avoid tobacco.
But Des Moines bar owner, Amedeo Rossi says a statewide ban would send an important message. Rossi says people get started smoking when they go to bars, "so that’s where you incubate smokers." Rossi says if you pull smoking out of bars, people are not going to start smoking. Rossi owns two smoke-free bars in Des Moines and said he banned smoking to protect employees.
Legislators from both parties say they’re concerned about the disparity between smoking and non-smoking establishments and warned anti-smoking advocates they may have to agree to some exemptions if they want the bill to pass.