Make my day: challenge smoking ban exemptions in court

The Des Moines Register reported on Monday that a group of business owners is raising money to challenge the smoking ban that is slated to go into effect on July 1.

They have not yet retained an attorney, in part because they have not reached a consensus about the right legal angle. Some want to challenge the law's exemptions, recognizing that there is little hope of getting the whole bill overturned:

Randy Stanford, a Des Moines small business owner who organized Iowans for Equal Rights, said no smoking ban has ever been overturned.

"They can waste their money any way they want, but there's only one legal issue," he said. "I wish there was a way to challenge the entire bill and be successful, but there isn't."

The only option is to "get rid of the unfair exemptions that are in the bill," he said.

Stanford said the exemptions give some over-21 entertainment venues a financial advantage over others. "How can they say it won't hurt the other small businesses when they say it'll hurt the casinos?" he asked.

As for exactly which exemptions would be targeted, Stanford said: "That would be up to the judge. I have no clue what they would strike."

The Register reported that some of the businesses want to retain former Governor Tom Vilsack, who said he would be open to taking the case if it focuses on overturning the law's exemptions:

"It would be sort of reinforcing the law," he said. "The Constitution requires you to treat people equally. ... I think we have a legitimate argument."

Vilsack said he has not yet been officially asked to represent anyone, but if he is asked, his law firm would first have to ensure there would be no potential conflicts.

"I feel very strongly about this. This is significant and important," Vilsack said. "When we craft laws, even though there may be political reasons for exemptions, the Constitution may not recognize those exemptions."

From my perspective, this is all good. The exemptions were needed to get the smoking ban through the Iowa House. Now that it has been signed into law, I would be pleased to see a court strike them down. That would protect even more Iowa workers and their children from the many health hazards associated with secondhand smoke.

While the casino owners and their lobbyists would fume, research suggests that their anger would be unfounded. Contrary to what many business owners in the hospitality industry believe, smoking bans do not hurt the bottom line. On the contrary, smoking bans often lead to increased sales, as well as other economic benefits for businesses. Many people will go back to places they've been avoiding because of the smoke.

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