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Anti-tobacco groups pushing to expand smoking ban

Publication Date: 2011-02-23
  • Author:MIKE GLOVER
  • Publication:Associated Press

Anti-tobacco advocates are stepping up their efforts to expand Iowa's smoking ban to include casinos, but acknowledged Wednesday that they're running out of time and facing heavy resistance from influential gambling interests.

Cathy Callaway, of the Iowa Tobacco Prevention Coalition, noted that the proposed expansion being considered by lawmakers must win initial approval by next week. When the Legislature approved the ban on indoor smoking in 2008, backers were able to gain the votes they needed only by agreeing to exempt casinos.

"Passing the Smoke-Free Act was not an easy lift and we anticipate this will be difficult as well," Callaway said during a news conference at the Statehouse. "Casinos have a loud lobbying voice we've seen across the country."

Troy Stremming, governmental affairs director for Ameristar Casino, said casino interests oppose the expansion because businesses should have the right to decide what goes on in their business.

"We've been opposed to all smoking bans," Stremming said. "It's a business rights issue. We have a right, as long as smoking is legal, to decide what goes on in our business."

Stremming also noted that the ban would not include Native American casinos, giving them a competitive advantage.

The proposed expansion of the smoking ban is languishing in the Senate committee, which must approve the measure by next week for the bill to remain alive for debate this year. Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal said he wouldn't go to extraordinary lengths to press the panel to act.

"We'll see what the committee decides," said Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs.

Callaway claimed that casino workers were at greater risk of lung and heart disease because of second-hand smoke exposure.

"The law was created to protect employees from second-hand smoke," Callaway added. "Everyone, including those who work at casinos, has a right to breathe smoke-free air."