In 2008, when Iowa passed an anti-smoking law but exempted casino gambling floors, there were plenty of cries of protest. And justly so.
Casino workers and non-smoking clientele would be subjected to the same harmful toxins that were banned from other public places, opponents argued. Those cries fell on deaf ears.
Yet each year, including this year, opponents keep trying, but each year their efforts fail. We doubt that such a ban will ever come to fruition but it doesn’t hurt to keep the issue top of mind.
The now-familiar routine played out again this year when a Senate subcommittee decided to delay action on a proposed smoking ban on casino floors to gather more information.
We can hardly imagine what more information the lawmakers might need about the dangers of smoking.
Dr. Richard Deming, a radiation oncologist who is medical director of the Mercy Cancer Center in Des Moines, told subcommittee members that Iowa was on the “forefront of forward-thinking” when smoking was banned in most public areas and work places — gambling floors and the Iowa Veterans home were exempt.
Deming said more than 3,400 lung cancer deaths and 46,000 heart attack deaths annually are associated with second-hand smoke as are significant costs related to illnesses and employee absenteeism.
“Iowans who have to work should not have to choose between their health and a paycheck,” he said.
However, Wes Ehrecke, president of the Iowa Gaming Association that represents 18 state-licensed commercial casinos, said the casinos have been very proactive in installing air-filtration systems.
He also said three Native American casinos not subject to the no-smoking laws (officially called the Smokefree Air Act) would have a distinct advantage.
He said lifting the smoking exemption would cause a 20 percent drop in casino revenues that would lead to 1,500 casino employees losing their jobs.
To which Cathy Callaway of the American Cancer Society said 500 state-regulated casinos in 20 states have banned smoking, including several neighboring Iowa.
As for the air-filtration system, she said research has indicated the only effective way to remove harmful effects of second-hand smoke is to remove the smoking.
We haven’t found any recent research, but two years ago a survey showed nearly two-thirds of Iowans wanted to see anti-tobacco measures extended to casinos. The group which commissioned the survey, the Iowa Tobacco Prevention Alliance, said casino floor employees are given second-class status because they are not protected from second-hand smoke.
From our point of view, we know people who would go to the casinos to gamble were it not for smoking. We don’t know anyone who wouldn’t go if they couldn’t smoke. We admit ours is a very small and very informal survey, but we’re going with it.
Again, we’re not optimistic the Legislature will pass gambling floor anti-smoking legislation. However, we hope that lawmakers at least let such a bill reach the full Senate, where it’s bound to draw even more public attention.
Anything that keeps anti-smoking efforts in the public’s eye is time and effort well-invested.