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Potential 2022 push to ban smoking at Iowa casinos

DES MOINES —- Smoking has been banned in public places in Iowa since 2008, but there’s been an exception that has allowed smoking in the gaming areas of Iowa casinos.

Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, notes the state’s tribal casinos and some state-licensed casinos temporarily moved to ban smoking to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“I do think that may be one silver lining of this horrible pandemic that we’ve been living through is we’ve seen casinos across the state make the decision to eliminate smoking on their premises,” Petersen says, “and it is time for the legislature to just put that policy in place.”

In 2008, Petersen was a member of the Iowa House and chairwoman of the commerce committee that led the effort to pass the Iowa Smokefree Act. At the time, Iowa’s casino industry argued it would lose customers to casinos in the Illinois Quad Cities where smoking was allowed, but smoking is now banned in casinos in Illinois and South Dakota — and gambling regulators overseeing construction of new casinos in Nebraska have just proposed a smoking ban.

“I really see the competition argument is weakening because of the states surrounding us,” Petersen says, “as well as the tribal casinos eliminating smoking.”

There’s been a no-smoking movement in casinos run by Native American tribes nationwide. Wes Ehrecke is president and CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association, which represents the 19 state-licensed casinos.

“Casinos probably have some of the best filtration and ventilation systems around. We have to accommodate both smokers and non-smokers in a very acceptable and quality indoor environment and we do that,” Ehrecke says. “…We’re bringing in fresh air several times every hour and that’s really helped during this Covid.”

Ehrecke says it’s not a workplace safety issue — and he says adults should be allowed to make adult decisions in adult venues.

“It’s still legal in this country to (smoke)…but we want to be proactive with it and we are,” Ehrecke says. “…The employees don’t seem to have complaints that I know of because we are doing such a proactive effort with our ventilation and filtration.”

Ehrecke made his comments during a recent appearance on “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS.

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