A 10-member panel of lawmakers has voted for a statewide ban on smoking in most public places, but smoking would still be allowed on the gaming floors of the state-licensed casinos. The Iowa House could take up the proposal as soon as Tuesday. 

Smoking would be banned in Iowa bars and restaurants if the bill becomes law and Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, calls it a good compromise. "The bill is to provide workplace protection to people that happen to work in bars and restaurants, in particular, and in a variety of other places that are currently assaulted by the cancer-causing effects of second-hand smoke," Bolkcom says.

Representative Tyler Olson, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, says Iowans will still be able to smoke in their own homes and vehicles, but smoking would be prohibited in most places where people congregate. "We’re not trying to decide what you can do by yourself when you’re not affecting anyone else," Olson says. "What we’re saying here is there is a strong, scientifically-proven, well-documented public health benefit to protecting folks from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke."

If this version of the bill becomes law, the new smoking restrictions would take effect on July 1st. "We’re trying to protect as many Iowans as possible and as many of Iowa’s public places as possible," Olson says.

All six Democrats on the 10-member conference committee endorsed the compromise on the anti-smoking legislation, while all four Republicans on the panel voted against it. Senate Republican Leader Ron Wieck of Sioux City says this is an example of "nanny government" taking away the rights of business owners. "They follow the laws. They do what society asks them to do and I think they ought to have the right to be able to decide what goes on, as long as it’s legal, inside the walls of their business," Wieck says. "I also think it’s the rights of the consumer to make a decision on what door they want to walk through and what environment they want to frequent."

Representative Chuck Soderberg, a Republican from Le Mars, suggests smoking would be allowed on the casino floors because state officials didn’t want to see gambling tax revenue dip. "I’m disappointed that we’re going to look after the interests of the revenue coming into the state, but we’re not concerned about revenue coming into privately-owned businesses," Soderberg says.

Representative Cecil Dolecheck, a Republican from Mount Ayr, argues the smoking ban should not apply to bars which cater to adults. "In my area of the state, basically I have several small, independent bars that probably have 80 percent or more of their income derived from the sale of alcohol and almost no food or they have a sandwich that they stick in the microwave," Dolecheck says. But the panel voted to ban smoking in all bars and restaurants, even the bars and restaurants in casinos as the bill only would allow smoking on a casino gaming floor.