Just over one hundred bar owners and smokers who’ve been protesting the state ban on smoking in bars and other public places gathered for a rally at the statehouse today.
Dennis Whitson, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Ottumwa, was there. Whitson goes before a panel of state officials March 16th because he’s allowed smoking to continue in the Ottumwa V.F.W. and the organization’s liquor license is on the line. "Every film you have ever (seen), whether it be fiction or factual, of a military operation a wounded man always had a cigarette in his mouth and now they want to take that away. I think it’s wrong," Whitson says. "They should take popcorn out of the movie theaters if that’s the case because bars, veterans and cigarettes just go hand in hand."
Whitson estimates about 90 percent of the veterans who frequent the V.F.W. in Ottumwa are smokers. "The men and women of the V.F.W. fought for the constitution…fought for life, liberty and the pusuit of happiness and our illustrious Democratic Party seems to think that means they can turn us into a socialist state and I don’t think that can happen," Whitson says, "not as long as I’m alive."
Whitson is upset with the Democrats who control the legislature’s debate agenda and passed the smoking ban, sending it to Governor Chet Culver, a Democrat who signed it into law last spring. "I’m 62 years old. I’ve been a Democrat since I was old enough to know what the difference between the mule and the elephant was," Whitson says, "but I have changed my affiliation to Independent because I’ll not be a party to a party that believes socialism is better than democracy."
The statewide ban on smoking in most public places took effect on July 1, 2008, and a group of bar owners quickly filed a lawsuit challenging the law. Peggy Huppert, an Iowa-based spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society, says legislators tell her the law won’t be changed this year. "With this lawsuit pending, they don’t want to get back into it," Huppert says, "and I think they have more important things to do."
Huppert dismisses bar owners’ complaints that their businesses cannot survive, financially, because of the smoking ban. "I’m sure there’s been some impact on bars, but it’s pretty difficult to say with the worst economic situation in decades that it’s really the smoke-free law that’s had such a big impact," Huppert says. "It’s be pretty hard to sort that out and, you know, data from other states shows that it hasn’t."
Huppert also disputes the idea a smoking ban is "socialism" or a violation of the U.S. Constitution. "There’s no constitutional right to smoke," Huppert says. "…The state has a right to regulate different businesses in different ways."