# Smoking Ban

Iowa House district 4: John Kooiker vs. John Buntsma

In what might be described as a Christmas miracle, a Democrat has stepped up to run in the January 6 special election to represent Iowa House district 4. The vacancy arose when State Representative Dwayne Alons passed away last month.

John Buntsma is the first Democrat since 2008 to contest the Iowa House district covering most of Sioux County (scroll down for a detailed map). Of the 100 Iowa House districts, this is the most Republican, with only 1,498 active registered Democrats, 13,279 Republicans, and 3,555 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. GOP presidential candidates routinely top 80 percent in Sioux County, and Governor Terry Branstad got about 91 percent of the votes there this year. In a statement I’ve enclosed below, Buntsma said he is running because “It is important for all of us to have choices. I felt that the voters should have more than one choice.” Good for him. I would love to see Democratic candidates compete in every Iowa House and Senate district, no matter how hopeless the race may appear.

I haven’t seen any detailed background on John Kooiker, the “military veteran, family farmer and retired postal service worker” who won a Republican nominating convention in House district 4. A short press release noted that Kooiker “heavily emphasized his social conservative beliefs,” which helped him secure the GOP nomination on the third ballot. That probably makes him a pretty good fit for the district. Alons was one of the most outspoken social conservatives in the Iowa House Republican caucus.

After the jump I’ve enclosed two press releases containing background on Buntsma. Note the difference between the version circulated by the candidate himself and the shorter release from the Iowa Democratic Party. I’ve often heard Democratic candidates complain that party types warn them against speaking their minds on potentially controversial issues. In a race like this, what difference could it make to downplay Buntsma’s beliefs on immigration, the minimum wage, or the exemption casinos received from Iowa’s public smoking ban?

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More proof smoking bans save lives

How about a little good news on a lousy day? A new study confirms previous research, which showed public smoking bans reduce hospitalizations for heart attacks and other life-threatening problems. The Iowa Smokefree Air Act, which went into effect in July 2008, has likely prevented many premature deaths.

UPDATE: The smoking ban was controversial while it was debated in 2008. Below I’ve listed all of the state legislators who had the courage to send that bill to Governor Chet Culver’s desk.  

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Weekend open thread: New fiscal year, new Iowa laws

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? Many laws approved during the 2012 legislative session go into effect today. After the jump I’ve posted links about some of the new laws and the end of the road for the Malcolm Price Laboratory School in Cedar Falls. I also included excerpts from a good article by Steve Gravelle, who examined the impact of Iowa’s public smoking ban four years after it became statewide law.

This is an open thread.

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Wellmark made me defend smokers' rights

Until this morning, I would have considered myself the blogger least likely to defend the right to smoke. Because of the many health risks associated with secondhand smoke, I strongly supported the Iowa Smokefree Air Act adopted in 2008, as well as the Iowa Department of Public Health’s decision to enforce that ban in all restaurants. I had no sympathy for smokers who whined about “Big Brother Democrats and Turncoat Republicans” and called the public smoking ban “Soviet” or “fascist.” I knew restaurant and bar owners who challenged the smoking ban in court were wasting their time and money.

However, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield is going too far with its new personnel policy on tobacco use. Beginning on June 1,

The insurer will “require applicants to assert that they are tobacco-free in order to be considered for a position,” said Rob Schweers, spokesman for Wellmark, which employs approximately 1,600 people in Des Moines and another 200 throughout the rest of the state.

Wellmark is asking existing employees to stop using tobacco by Oct. 1. The new policy also prohibits any smoking during work hours, including scheduled breaks and during lunch.

The Des Moines Register quotes Schweers as saying the company wants to provide “incentive for people to quit [smoking], which will result in a healthier, more productive work force.” If Wellmark wants to pay for counseling or nicotine patches or other support for smokers trying to quit, I’m all for it. Nicotine is highly addictive, and many people need extra support to stop using it. But smoking is still legal in private homes and many outdoor spaces, and employers should not try to control how employees live when they’re not at work. Yes, smokers cost employers more in health care costs, but so do people who eat unhealthy diets or engage in other risky (but legal) behavior.

According to the Register, several other large employers in central Iowa ban smoking during working hours, including lunch breaks, but don’t prohibit their employees from smoking during private time. Wellmark has not yet threatened to fire employees who don’t quit smoking by October 1, but apparently, they would have the legal right to do so. Peggy Huppert of the American Cancer Society said violating that organization’s policy on tobacco use is grounds for termination.  

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Bar owner drops futile challenge against smoking ban

From the Des Moines Register’s blog:

A West Burlington bar owner won’t appeal an Iowa District Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of Iowa’s Smokefree Air Act, which bans smoking in most public places.

Larry Duncan, the owner of Otis Campbell’s bar, still strongly believes the smoking ban is unconstitutional, said Darwin Bunger, Duncan’s lawyer. But there was no guarantee Duncan would win an appeal, and losing an appeal would have resulted in two-year license revocation, he said. […]

District Judge Mary Ann Brown, in an April 1 ruling, affirmed the findings of state alcoholic beverage regulators who had revoked Otis Campbell’s liquor license. It was the first ruling on the constitutionality of the enforcement of Iowa’s Smokefree Air Act. Brown said there is no fundamental or protected right to smoke in public or to allow patrons to smoke in a public business.

State records showed that dozens of smoking complaints had been filed against Otis Campbell’s after the Smokefree Air Act took effect July 1, 2008. Visitors described an environment in which customers freely ate and drank and puffed cigarettes amid a haze of tobacco smoke. Ashtrays remained on the bar and tables, and tables and there were no no-smoking signs.

In a settlement, Duncan agreed to comply with the smoking ban. His bar’s liquor license will be restored after a 50-day suspension.

Duncan’s case was doomed from the start. No lawsuit has ever successfully overturned a local or state public smoking ban in this country. The only realistic legal challenge would have been against the unfair exemption Iowa lawmakers granted to casino owners. However, the remedy for that would be to toss out the casino exemption, not the smoking ban. Anyway, I’ve been told that a court would likely uphold the casino exemption, on the grounds that legislators had a “rational basis” for making exceptions in the law for some businesses. Judges considering this kind of appeal wouldn’t use the “strict scrutiny” standard that applies in civil rights cases.

UPDATE: The Burlington Hawk Eye covered the judge’s ruling against Duncan here.

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Caution: Now entering a fact- and logic-free zone

I’ve heard some strange arguments against marriage equality, but the latest from Iowa Family Policy Center President Chuck Hurley is a doozy. Reacting to a new report on HIV and syphilis rates among gay and bisexual men, Hurley asserted,

“The Iowa Legislature outlawed smoking [in some public places] in an effort to improve health and reduce the medical costs that are often passed on to the state,” Hurley said. “The secondhand impacts of certain homosexual acts are arguably more destructive, and potentially more costly to society than smoking.” […]

“Iowa lawmakers need to pay attention to hard facts and not be persuaded by emotion laden half-truths,” he said. “Because of their unwillingness to correct the error of last April’s Iowa Supreme Court opinion, the Iowa Legislature is responsible for sanctioning activities that will lead to dramatically higher rates of HIV and syphilis in Iowa.”

Where to begin? Smoking increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and various respiratory ailments, causing an estimated 438,000 preventable deaths every year nationwide. In Iowa, smoking directly causes an estimated 4,400 deaths each year, and secondhand smoke claims another 440 lives. Smoking causes about $1 billion in health care costs every year in Iowa, of which about $301 million is covered by Medicaid.

AIDS is a serious health threat in the U.S., but not on the same scale as smoking. AIDS has caused fewer than 20,000 deaths nationwide per year in the past decade. The total number of AIDS deaths in this country since the epidemic began is estimated at just under 600,000. I was unable to find statistics showing how many Iowans have died of AIDS, but according to this report for the Iowa Department of Public Health, 114 Iowans were diagnosed with HIV in 2005, and 79 Iowans were diagnosed with AIDS the same year. The numbers may have increased somewhat since then, but AIDS is nowhere near as “destructive” and “costly” to Iowans as smoking. Iowa’s syphilis rate is far below the national average, and none of the states with the highest syphilis rates permit same-sex marriages. If Iowa legislators want to influence the syphilis rate, they should focus on providing adequate funding levels for STD testing and ensuring that young people have access to medically accurate sex education.

Hurley’s argument is not only fact-free, but also illogical on several levels. He seems to think that allowing same-gender couples to get married is going to encourage many more Iowans to experiment with gay sex. Do you know anyone who decided to become gay because they knew they’d be able to get married? Has homosexual activity diminished in New York and New Jersey since those states’ legislatures declined to legalize same-sex marriage? Did California’s Proposition 8 reduce the number of gays and lesbians having sex there?

If Hurley is worried about promiscuity and sexually-transmitted diseases, he should be happy to see gay couples settle down and get married.

Contrary to the strange fantasies of the Iowa Family Policy Center crowd, the Iowa Supreme Court didn’t make the sky fall last April. Fortunately, most Iowans understand that our state legislators have more important things to do than overturn same-sex marriage rights. They also sense that giving legal recognition to the relationships of committed same-sex couples does no harm to other people. More than 90 percent of respondents in a statewide poll conducted last September said gay marriage had caused “no real change” in their lives.

Hurley’s position on gay marriage is more coherent than, say, Terry Branstad’s, but it’s also more detached from reality. Maybe his latest comments aren’t the worst argument ever against gay marriage, but they are certainly a contender.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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Smoking rate declines in Iowa

I mentioned in this post that it’s been a full year since the Iowa Smokefree Air Act went into effect. The public smoking ban was one of the most controversial bills considered during the 2008 legislative session, and advocates praised the law’s success at a press conference this week.

According to a recent Iowa Department of Public Health survey, 14 percent of Iowans smoke. In 2007, IDPH research estimated the smoking rate at 19 percent. That’s a significant decline, suggesting that around one-quarter of Iowans who smoked in 2007 have since quit. The $1 a pack tax hike on cigarettes approved in 2007 was probably a major factor in this trend as well.

The overwhelming majority of Iowa businesses are complying with the smoking ban, according to a June 30 press release from the IDPH. A little more than 1 percent of Iowa businesses with employees (1,015 to be exact) have received a “Notice of Potential Violation” from the IDPH. Of those, approximately half are bars and restaurants. I’m not surprised, since bar and restaurant owners were the smoking ban’s most vocal opponents (despite research showing that smoking bans do not hurt businesses in the hospitality industry). For those who want more details on compliance with the Smokefree Air Act, I’ve posted the IDPH press release after the jump.

Although some Democrats were angry that the legislature took on this issue last year, I’m proud to have supported the smoking ban at this blog for all the reasons I listed here.  

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Court case against smoking ban dismissed

After Iowa’s public smoking ban went into effect on July 1, 2008, a group of bar owners filed a lawsuit claiming the new law was unconstitutional. Last summer a district court judge denied the plaintiffs’ request to put a stay on the law while the court case was pending, and last week a different judge dismissed the case, according to a press release from Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.

The Des Moines Register reported on May 12 that the case was dismissed after the bar owners decided to drop the lawsuit:

Brian Froehlich, of Wilton, is with the Iowa Bar Owners Coalition. He says the groups are redirecting their efforts and will support the bars that are going to court to protect their businesses.

It’s not clear from the Register’s story what the bar owners’ new legal strategy will be. I’m no attorney, but I would advise them to challenge the part of the Iowa Smokefree Air Act that exempts certain areas of casinos from the smoking ban. That seems unfair to other businesses in the hospitality industry that must comply with the ban. It also seems illogical until you remember that gambling interests have spent heavily on lobbyists and political donations to Iowa in recent years.  

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Memo to disgruntled bar owners

Even if you don’t like Iowa’s public smoking ban, even if you think the smoking ban is unconstitutional, even if you have joined a lawsuit challenging the smoking ban, the smoking ban still applies to you.

Larry Duncan, owner of Otis Campbell’s Bar and Grill in West Burlington, learned that lesson today when his business became the first to lose its liquor license for failing to comply with the Iowa Smokefree Air Act. State Senator Tom Courtney hailed today’s action by the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division in a statement released by the Iowa Senate Democrats (excerpt):

“This is a great day for restaurant and bar owners in our community who are playing the rules,” said State Senator Tom Courtney of Burlington. “This law protects the health of employees who don’t have a choice when they are forced to work in smoke-filled rooms. The overwhelming majority of employers in the state understand this and have complied with the law.”

The state decision leaves room for the liquor license to be restored sooner if Otis Cambpell’s agrees to the follow the law.

“I think that’s a reasonable compromise,” said Courtney. “It would send the wrong message to law-abiding Iowans if the state ignored a handful of business owners who are thumbing their nose at this new law.”

According to the Des Moines Register, Duncan is challenging the smoking ban in federal court. Other restaurant and bar owners have filed suit in Iowa. I think they are all wasting their money, as courts have upheld other state and local smoking bans, but they have every right to challenge the law. They do not have the right to flout the law in the meantime, though. Last summer a judge denied a request to suspend the smoking ban pending trial.

Share any relevant thoughts and opinions in this thread.

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Congratulations to Staci Appel

The assistant Iowa Senate majority leader and chair of the State Government Committee has taken on a new responsibility:

February 6, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                            

State Legislator Network Names Staci Appel Iowa State Director

State Senator Staci Appel of Ackworth has been selected to serve as Iowa State Director for the Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL).

WiLL President Sen. Nan Grogan Orrock (GA) announced the State Director appointment in Washington, DC, saying “Since her election to the Iowa Senate in 2006, Staci Appel has provided exemplary leadership on a number of issues important to her constituents and to Iowa.  Senator Appel has a legislative record that demonstrates a commitment to issues affecting children and senior citizens and the disadvantaged, as well as state budget and infrastructure needs.”

Orrock said that as a State Director of WiLL, Appel will work with the national non-partisan network of women legislators to influence federal legislation and budgetary policy.  Appel will work with women from all fifty states to amplify women’s voices, promote women’s leadership, and support a national agenda that promotes true homeland security and prosperity.

“With a membership base of one out of every three women legislators, WiLL is a strong voice for national policy to address family violence, to promote the health and well-being of women, children and families, to protect our environment, and to oppose bloated military spending that builds too many weapons and not enough schools,” stated Senator Orrock.

Staci Appel of Ackworth is a member of the Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL).  For more information about WiLL, contact Staci Appel (515) 961-6982 or the WiLL office at 202-544-5055.


Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL), a unique program of WAND, is a non-partisan network of women state legislators working to influence federal policy and budget priorities.

Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) empowers women to act politically to reduce violence and militarism, and redirect excessive military resources toward unmet human and environmental needs.

Appel has already made a mark during her first term in the Iowa Senate. She helped get the Farm to School program funded during the 2007 legislative session. Last year she secured more funding for after-school programs (although those funds unfortunately got “swept” for flood relief in the summer). She also managed the smoking ban bill in the Iowa Senate and chaired the conference committee that resolved the differences between the House and Senate versions of that legislation.

I don’t know how she finds enough hours in the day, because she is also a mother of six children at home. I will look forward to learning more about her work with WiLL.

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Bleeding Heartland Year in Review: Iowa politics in 2008

Last year at this time I was scrambling to make as many phone calls and knock on as many doors as I could before the Iowa caucuses on January 3.

This week I had a little more time to reflect on the year that just ended.

After the jump I’ve linked to Bleeding Heartland highlights in 2008. Most of the links relate to Iowa politics, but some also covered issues or strategy of national importance.

I only linked to a few posts about the presidential race. I’ll do a review of Bleeding Heartland’s 2008 presidential election coverage later this month.

You can use the search engine on the left side of the screen to look for past Bleeding Heartland diaries about any person or issue.

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"Strange" and "bizarre" smoking ban stays in place pending court case

I tried to warn opponents of the smoking ban that they would not succeed in getting a court to overturn this law.

In the first legal skirmish, attorney George Eichhorn failed to convince a judge that the smoking ban should be suspended pending the outcome of bar and restaurant owners’ legal challenge. He had argued that “the smoking ban is ‘bizarre’ and ‘strange’ and unconstitutional for a variety of reasons.”

They should have listened to the people urging them to challenge the smoking ban’s unfair exemptions for casinos, instead of trying to get the whole law thrown out.

The Iowa law is comparable to many other municipal and state-level bans on smoking in public places. I give this lawsuit very little chance of success.

Some thoughts on Repealthesmokingban.org

William Meyers is obviously passionate about politics and willing to spend lots of time volunteering for political causes, which is commendable.

But I am hard-pressed to think of any activist who has applied himself in a more self-defeating and counter-productive way than Meyers. First he declared himself an independent candidate for Congress after losing the fourth district primary–a move I still think he will regret someday.

Now I learn from Iowa Independent that Meyers has launched a new website against Iowa’s smoking ban. I spent a little time on repealthesmokingban.org. The “leaders” page lists Meyers as the founder and online coordinator of Repealthesmokingban.org and former Republican State Senator George Eichhorn as the attorney representing bar and restaurant owners who are fighting the ban. (I don’t give that lawsuit much chance of succeeding.)

Not surprisingly, Meyers’ website disputes evidence of the harm caused by secondhand smoke. It also contains a page listing bars and restaurants all over the country that have closed, allegedly because of local smoking bans.

Guess what? Lots of restaurants and bars go out of business, whether or not they permit smoking. If I’m not mistaken, 50 percent of restaurants fail during their first year of operation. Competition is fierce, and food and transportation costs are rising while the public’s disposable income is dropping.

But there is simply no credible evidence that smoking bans are bad for business. On the contrary, research supports the opposite conclusion.

Meyers’ new website has a page seeking to recruit volunteers in every Iowa county. Repealthesmokingban.org has also grouped counties into 11 clusters and is seeking a district coordinator in each.

If people want to lobby legislators to repeal the smoking ban, it’s a free country. I don’t object to people organizing toward that end, even if I think Meyers is wrong on this issue.

What really bothers me about the website is the page listing the “nannies” (Chet Culver and all the legislators who supported the smoking ban):


The Nannies….anyone who thinks they should be able to tell other adults how to live. The militantly anti-anything-else-they-see-someone-else-enjoying.

Never mind the nonsensical spin about people being “militantly anti-anything-else-they-see-someone-else-enjoying.” No one is trying to deprive Meyers or anyone else the pleasure of smoking in the privacy of his own home. But your right to enjoy a cigarette doesn’t give you the right to jeopardize someone else’e health.

This website goes way beyond lobbying legislators to repeal the smoking ban. By asking voters to “remember” the “nannies” on election day, Meyers is in effect urging Iowans to vote Democrats out of their legislative majority.

Here’s a link to the roll call votes in the Iowa House and Senate on the final version of the smoking ban bill.

In the House, 45 Democrats and nine Republicans voted yes.

In the Senate, 25 Democrats and one Republican voted yes.

As if Meyers hasn’t done enough damage to his political future by refusing to accept the outcome of the fourth district primary, he is now mobilizing angry smokers to cast their votes based on that one issue.

I find it interesting that Meyers supported Barack Obama’s campaign in Iowa. I wonder if he heard what Obama said at a presidential debate last September when asked whether he would support a national law to ban smoking in public places:

I think that local communities are making enormous strides, and I think they’re doing the right thing on this. If it turns out that we’re not seeing enough progress at the local level, then I would favor a national law. I don’t think we’ve seen the local laws play themselves out entirely, because I think you’re seeing an enormous amount of progress in Chicago, in New York, in other major cities around the country. And because I think we have been treating this as a public health problem and educating the public on the dangers of secondhand smoke, that that pressure will continue. As I said, if we can’t provide these kinds of protections at the local level, which would be my preference, I would be supportive of a national law.

Oh, no! Obama thinks that communities are “doing the right thing” to ban smoking in public, but he would support a federal law on the issue if the local ordinances are not adequately protecting Americans against secondhand smoke.

Attention, field organizers for Obama: don’t give William Meyers any numbers to call or doors to knock this fall. For all we know, he’ll go around telling people not to vote for the “nanny.”

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Check out the revamped Iowa Independent

The Iowa Independent blog unveiled a new look this week. Check it out if you haven’t already. Some recent posts include:

This story about a new law that will make it harder to challenge a voter’s qualifications to cast a ballot on election day.

This piece in which Ed Fallon and Lynn Heuss reflect on Fallon’s campaign against Leonard Boswell. Heuss correctly notes that budgeting was one of the biggest mistakes the campaign made. They hired so many staffers early in the year that when fundraising failed to meet expectations, they were unable to purchase any paid media before the June 3 primary.

This story about independent Congressional candidate William Meyers launching a new website against Iowa’s smoking ban.

This piece on a former Agriprocessors employee pleading guilty to criminal charges. I haven’t written much about the Agriprocessors scandal, and the main reason is that Iowa Independent has done such a good job of staying on top of this story.

It’s a continuing disgrace that our enforcement of immigration laws punishes workers and their families but rarely if ever punishes corporations and executives who oversee illegal hiring practices (not to mention other labor and safety violations at Agriprocessors).

(Side note: if you want to be shocked and horrified, read this New York Times story about what happened after a pregnant illegal immigrant was pulled over for a routine traffic violation in Nashville.)  

Angry bar and restaurant owners will get their day in court

The Des Moines Register reported on Thursday that

On the same day a new statewide smoking ban went into effect [July 1], several bar and restaurant owners filed a petition in Polk County District Court seeking to overturn the ban.

The Iowa Bar Owners Coalition, based in Clinton County; the Clinton Organized Bar and Restaurant Association; Froehlich Properties; and longtime smoker Ron Oveson filed the petition in Des Moines on Tuesday.

The group’s attorney, George Eichhorn, said he’s seeking a temporary injunction on the enforcement of the ban until the case can go to trial.

That’s former state Senator George Eichhorn, who last month just barely lost the Republican primary to run against U.S. Senator Tom Harkin.

Some restaurant and bar owners wanted to challenge the exemptions granted to casinos and other venues. Former Governor Tom Vilsack had expressed a willingness to take the case, as long as the lawsuit was aimed at overturning the exemptions and not at overturning the ban itself. Apparently no court anywhere in the U.S. has struck down a smoking ban.

However, some people say Iowa’s new law is more extreme than other restrictions on public smoking, to the point of being “monstrous” and “vicious” and “cruel”.

In his comments to the Register, Eichhorn suggested that was the angle he would pursue:

Eichhorn said the state adopted “radical” regulations that affect a lot of private businesses but did not take the necessary precautions to protect them. However, he said he thought the state made sure that it would still benefit monetarily.

“I think that Iowa has done some rather unusual things,” he said. “We will get some good results out of this lawsuit.”

I suspect that the people footing the bill for this lawsuit will be sorry they didn’t listen to this guy:

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.

I noticed that Iowans for Equal Rights was not among the groups that filed the petition in Polk County on Tuesday. Anyone know whether that group may still be planning to challenge the exemptions to the smoking ban?

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Stop calling the smoking ban "fascist"

Look, I understand that many Iowans are upset about the smoking ban that will go into effect tomorrow.

I agree with the Des Moines Register editorial board, which argued on Sunday that legislators should have delayed the starting date for the ban so that businesses wouldn’t have to implement it just a few days after the Iowa Department of Public Health completed the rulemaking process.

But critics lose all credibility when they rant about the “fascist state Department of Health” and claim that the “monstrous” smoking ban is “all about cruelty,” “all about viciousness,” and so on.

Not surprisingly, that post I linked to denies that secondhand smoke is a serious health problem, despite mounting research to the contrary.

You can read up on what fascism is here. You may disagree with the smoking ban, but don’t compare it to fascism.

We went to a party last night, and one of our friends told us that their next-door neighbors frequently go out on their porch to smoke. The smoke drifts onto my friends’ deck and into their house if they have the window open. She said there’s nothing she can do about it, because her neighbors are on their own property.

So take heart, angry smokers. Even after you are barred from smoking in most public places, you will still be free to pollute the air at your own home. Maybe your neighbors will get to experience your freedom as well.

Note to whiners: the smoking ban is not "Soviet"

With only a few days left before Iowa’s smoking ban goes into effect on July 1, the Des Moines Register reports that some business owners are finding creative ways to vent their anger:

At least one Iowa nightclub owner will raise the Soviet flag while playing the former communist country’s national anthem for his customers June 30.


Blues on Grand will officially go nonsmoking at 9 p.m. June 30 and “have a flag-raising ceremony that truly represents the direction our government is heading,” [manager Jeff] Wagner said. He has already lined up the Soviet flag and music.

As it happens, I visited the Soviet Union several times and have spent a fair amount of time in post-Soviet Russia. It’s probably the last place on earth where smoking would be banned in public. Russians still allow smoking almost everywhere, including on airplanes.

I also can’t imagine the Soviet regime caring enough about the health of ordinary citizens to pass any law to protect indoor air quality. Neither public health nor environmental protection were high priorities in the USSR.

If Wagner thinks it’s tough operating a business in Iowa’s regulatory environment, he should talk to people who have tried to do business in Russia. Between corrupt government officials demanding bribes for permits and organized crime groups that regularly extort business owners, it’s not easy to make money.

According to the Register, advocates are encouraging consumers to make a point of visiting newly smoke-free establishments next week:

Peggy Huppert of the American Cancer Society said various anti-smoking groups across the state have planned their own celebrations. Members plan to visit businesses like Blues on Grand on July 1 and tell their owners they wouldn’t have come if smoking was allowed.

Well, count this guy out:

I have been champing at the bit to finally be able to go to Blues on Grand without having to breathe the filth and stench of the smoke that filled my lungs and permeated my clothes the one and only time I went there.

However, after reading the June 22 story, “Iowa Smokers Smolder Over Ban,” in which the owner states that he plans on putting up the Soviet flag at his bar, it will be a long time before this nonsmoker walks through the door of Blues on Grand, if ever.

Why would this guy intentionally offend the majority of nonsmokers, a group of people that he is going to want and need to prosper under this new worker-safety law?

By the way, I will agree that the casino exemption must go.

– Chuck Davis, Urbandale

So do I, Mr. Davis. It’s still possible that restaurant and bar owners will file suit to challenge the casino exemption, so we may get our wish.

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Now that's framing

I recently received a fundraising letter from Senator Staci Appel (Senate district 37), and it contains the following paragraph:

As a freshman legislator, I also had the great opportunity to manage House File 2212 (The Healthy Indoor Clean Air Act) when it came before the Iowa Senate. I was happy to work in a bipartisan effort to pass this important piece of legislation. This legislation will protect workers and individuals all across Iowa.

I’ve been writing posts supporting the smoking ban all year, but I never thought to refer to it only as “The Healthy Indoor Clean Air Act.” Many people might not even realize Appel is talking about the smoking ban. Who’s against healthy, indoor clean air?

This kind of thing is what separates the pros from the amateurs.

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Restaurant (n.): A place where meals are served to the public

Earlier this month the Iowa Department of Public Health released draft regulations for implementing the smoking ban that will go into effect on July 1. You can view the draft regulations here.

The Des Moines Register reported a few days ago that the people who have always opposed the smoking ban are furious about the IDPH’s draft rules:

“In my mind and in the minds of just about every single legislator I’ve talked with in the past week – and that’s about 20 or so – this is an absolute perversion of the legislative intent. Period,” said Rep. McKinley Bailey, a Webster City Democrat who voted against the bill in April.

The state’s administrative rules are intended to help clarify and implement laws and spell out details of enforcement. The Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee discussed the proposed rules for the smoking ban Wednesday.

The Legislature this year approved a ban on smoking, effective July 1, in almost all indoor public places, including bars and restaurants. One provision in the law allows bar owners to permit smoking in their outdoor patio areas but prohibits restaurants from allowing outdoor smoking.

The rules, also effective July 1, say that bar food is limited to ice, pre-packaged snacks, popcorn, peanuts and the reheating of commercially prepared foods that do not require assembly, such as frozen pizza.

Under that definition, bars that have a grill and serve a burger, for example, would be considered a restaurant.

McKinley Bailey is a good Democrat, but I think he’s wrong on this issue. A restaurant is commonly understood to mean “a place where meals are served to the public.” I looked that up in several dictionaries.

If you look up definitions of “bar,” you will find that it refers to a counter or an establishment where beverages, especially alcoholic beverages, are served. Some of the definitions mention that food may be served at bars as well. The IDPH draft regulations account for this, by explaining the types of food that a bar may serve.

If you allowed every establishment that serves drinks to evade the smoking ban, you’d have hundreds of restaurant owners placing a few tables outside and declaring themselves to be “bars.”

It seems reasonable to say that if a business is serving the public food cooked to order, that establishment is a restaurant subject to the smoking ban.

I want to address this part of the Register article as well:

“This is a clear case where a state agency is going beyond the scope of the intended legislation,” said Tom Baldwin, owner of Drink, a Clive bar.

Roughly 3 percent of Drink’s sales are from food. But because of the proposed rules, the facility would be considered a restaurant for the purposes of enforcement of the statewide smoking ban, he told the rules committee Wednesday.

Baldwin has a simple choice to make. If he thinks that his business depends on letting patrons smoke, he can stop serving meals cooked to order and serve pre-packaged food instead. By his own admission, food accounts for only about 3 percent of his business’s sales.

Or, if he feels that cooking food for customers is vital for his business, he can go smoke-free.

Either way, I don’t think his argument about legislative intent holds water.

As I’ve written before, the research on smoking bans suggests that they do not hurt the bottom line. This report is worth reading in full, but here is the main conclusion:

A significant body of scientific research has been accumulated on the economic impact of smoking bans on hospitality business, particularly bars and restaurants. The only research that shows any long-term negative effect on bar or restaurant sales is unscientific research that has been sponsored by the tobacco companies.

All independent published studies conducted in the US and Canada that used tax data in the analysis concluded that “smoking restrictions do not impact negatively on hospitality sales, employment, or tourism activity in the long run.”

The current economic climate, with rising costs for food and transportation hitting restaurants and forcing many consumers to reduce their discretionary spending, is a genuine threat to the hospitality industry. In contrast, restaurant and bar owners’ anger over the new smoking ban is misplaced.  

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Department of Public Health releases draft regulations on smoking ban

I learned from Representative Tyler Olson today that the Iowa Department of Public Health has released draft regulations to implement the public smoking ban set to go into effect on July 1. Go to www.iowasmokefreeair.gov to read and comment on the regulations.

I was tough on the House Democrats earlier this year for putting so many exemptions in the smoking ban, but I understand that those were necessary to get the bill through the lower chamber.

Legislators removed some of the exceptions when the House and Senate versions were reconciled in conference. My hope is that a court may strike down some of the exemptions that remained in the final version of the bill.

For those who are still bent out of shape about the new law, I again offer my 10 suggestions to help smokers stop whining about the smoking ban.

The press release I got today from Representative Tyler Olson is after the jump.

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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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Will the smoking ban change where you eat or drink?

Marc Hansen’s latest column for the Des Moines Register is about non-smokers who plan to start going back to various restaurants and bars after the public smoking ban goes into effect on July 1.

I know that was true for me after the Waveland Cafe went smoke-free last fall.

Although Hansen’s column is mainly anecdotal, studies in other parts of the country have shown that smoking bans are not bad for businesses.

Consider this an open thread on how the smoking ban will affect where you go out to eat or drink (whether or not you smoke).

10 ways for smokers to stop whining about the smoking ban

Over at Iowa Independent, Douglas Burns has put up another post complaining about the tough bill on public smoking that the legislature adopted earlier this month.

Burns offers 10 ways to deal with the smoking ban which, in his words, will introduce “a radical cultural change in many shot-and-a-beer, small-town taverns that dot the Iowa landscape.”

One of his suggestions is:

2. Take your anger out on Gov. Chet Culver, Big Brother Democrats and Turncoat Republicans

To be a one-issue voter for the rest of your life is crazy. But the smoking ban is an example of effete urban Iowans monkeying around with the small businesses of rural Iowans. If it’s smoking today, what’s next for government intrusion into small businesses? Will we go the way of New York City and ban certain fatty foods to the point where chicken-fried steaks must be served without gravy?

With statehouse races in the fall, smokers and those who don’t like the creep of big government into Iowa life should send a message by voting against smoke ban supporters. Better yet, contribute to their opponents. The ban was generally a Democratic brainchild and product, but some Republicans jumped off the Bridge Over the River Common Sense on this one, too.

I’ve got 10 suggestions for the smokers like Burns who feel oppressed by “effete urban Iowans” (which isn’t even accurate, if you look at the list of legislators who voted for this bill):

1. Quit using that “what will they ban next, fast food?” analogy. The smoking ban is nothing like the government trying to control people’s consumption of fatty food, because eating unhealthy food doesn’t affect other people’s health the way second-hand smoke does.

2. Acknowledge that your choice to smoke in a bar or restaurant prevents employees of those establishments from choosing not to inhale smoke. It’s easy for you to say that people who don’t like smoking should get another job. Maybe that “shot-and-a-beer, small-town tavern” is the only game in town for that employee. Maybe family obligations require someone to work evenings and weekends, when a large portion of the jobs available are in restaurants or bars.

3. Recognize that what seems inconvenient to you may allow pregnant women to avoid second-hand smoke and the increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirth that accompanies it.

4. Remember that pregnant women exposed to second-hand smoke have a higher risk of delivering a low-birth-weight baby, which is associated with a greater chance of various health problems.

5. Instead of complaining about having to step outside for a cigarette, think about the future babies who will not have an elevated risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome because you did not expose their pregnant mothers to second-hand smoke.

6. Think of all the men and women who work in that place you like to smoke who will no longer have to work in an environment that raises their chance of getting cancer, heart disease or chronic lung problems.

7. Recognize that this smoking ban will probably save you money if it pushes you to smoke less or even quit.

8. Take up Burns’ suggestion to pursue the free smoking-cessation counseling offered by the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Control Division. Then you can treat yourself to something nice with the money you save on cigarettes.

9. If you own a restaurant or bar where smoking has been allowed up to now, take heart; research in other parts of the country suggests that you will not lose business because of the smoking ban. I know that I eat more often at the Waveland Cafe in Des Moines since the owner made it smoke-free last November.

10. If you own a different kind of business where smoking has previously been permitted, remember that smoking bans bring hidden economic benefits to many businesses, including “reduced absenteeism, reduced insurance costs, and reduced cleaning and maintenance costs.”

Feel free to add to my list in the comments section.

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Smoking ban passes, expanded health insurance for children advances

Mary Mascher put up a post at Blog for Iowa a few days ago detailing action on several bills last week at the legislature. I recommend keeping an eye on that blog for legislative news as we get closer to the end of the session.

I read in the Des Moines Register that yesterday both chambers passed a compromise smoking ban bill, which covers almost all public places:

Iowans will still be able to smoke in the gambling areas of casinos, although smoke would be prohibited in casino restaurants, gift shops, bars and employee areas.

They can smoke in the outdoor areas of bars, the outdoors areas of county fairs and the State Fair except the grandstands, in limousines and in retail tobacco stores.

Other exemptions are designated areas of correctional facilities, the state veterans home in Marshalltown and Iowa National Guard facilities.

I’m pleased that restaurants and bars will be smoke-free. That will protect a lot of employees from second-hand smoke, and I doubt it will hurt business. The Waveland Cafe in Des Moines has no seen business drop off since it went smoke free last fall, because people like me, who had avoided bringing their families, are now eating there more often.

I was interested to read that the smoking ban did not have enough Democratic votes to pass either the House or the Senate. In both chambers, a majority of Democrats were joined by a small number of Republicans. The Register has the roll-call vote on this bill, in case you want to see how your representatives voted.

Governor Culver’s office indicated that he “looks forward” to signing the bill.

The Senate on Monday passed a bill expanding health insurance coverage for children, including some young adult children. According to the Des Moines Register,

The bill now returns to the House, which passed a less specific version last month.

A children’s welfare advocate who expressed doubts about the original House bill praised the version that passed in the Senate Monday.

“I think we’re getting there. We’re getting there,” said Carrie Fitzgerald, senior health policy associate for the Child and Family Policy Center. She said the new bill includes more specifics, such as measures to prevent eligible children from being taken off public programs.

As my husband and I have learned during the past five years, the cost of health insurance for young, healthy adults increases once you have a child, and with every additional child. If a parent’s employer does not provide your health insurance, the cost of a private plan can easily be out of reach for middle-income families.

It’s short of the universal access to health care we need in this country, but making more children eligible for low-cost state insurance plans is a step in the right direction.

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Roundup of legislative action this week

Lots going on in the state legislature this week, so here are some quick hits:

The ban on smoking in public places has gone to a conference committee after the House approved a version that would fail to protect many bar and restaurant employees. The version passed by the Senate bans smoking in all bars and restaurants, along with most other public places. Senator Staci Appel chairs the conference committee.

On a party-line vote of 52-47, the House approved a measure backed by unions that

greatly expands the issues that unions can negotiate. Under the proposal, unions could negotiate such issues as insurance carriers, class sizes and overtime compensation.

Advocates say the proposal would better protect public employees. Opponents said it would strip power away from locally elected officials, placing more decision-making power in the hands of unions.

Republicans say that bill would lead to tax increases, and brought Senate business to a halt on Thursday in an effort to block debate on the proposal.

Watch for some fireworks in the Senate over this issue, starting next Monday:

But about 24 hours after Republican senators first holed up in a back room Thursday morning, refusing to debate the labor-backed bill, lawmakers agreed to end the stand-off today.

Democrats agreed to wait until Monday to debate the controversial bill, and Republicans agreed to limit debate to no longer than six hours.


The stalemate idled and irritated Democratic lawmakers, who were eager to go home to their families for the Easter holidays. At least two Democratic lawmakers stayed awake at their desks the entire night, while most left to get some sleep.

This morning, the Republican leader, Ron Wieck of Sioux City, offered what his staff called “an olive branch.”

“We will allow the bill to be read in, have a subcommittee and full committee hearing in an effort to move it to the Senate floor,” Wieck said in a statement. “This would then make the bill funnel proof and eligible for debate for the rest of the session.”


“Senate Republicans, however, refuse to allow a radical expansion of union power, at the expense of the taxpayer, move forward without more public comment,” the e-mailed statement says.

Meanwhile, attorneys are warning that the proposed worker-ID law which has not been approved yet “likely will face multiple constitutional challenges.”

The Interfaith Alliance Action Fund issued a statement last month detailing many problems with the worker-ID proposal.

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House Democrats render smoking ban meaningless

Who, besides smokers themselves, is most harmed by smoking in public places?

People who work in very smoky rooms in restaurants, bars and casinos. If you work a 40-hour week in one of those places, you might as well be a pack-a-day smoker yourself.

So it’s disappointing to see that the Iowa House substantially changed the proposed ban on smoking in most public places, according to the Des Moines Register:


Smoking opponents called the new version of the bill a devastating blow to an earlier proposal that would have prohibited smoking at an estimated 99 percent of Iowa’s public places. They said the exemption approved by the House would weaken current law because, in some cases, special nonsmoking sections of restaurants would be unnecessary.


“It’s not very much good at all,” said Dan Ramsey, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association of Iowa. “It’s pretty much useless at this point.”

It sets up a showdown with the Iowa Senate, which has approved a widespread smoking ban that would include casinos, as well as nearly all bars and restaurants.

Some laws address problems, and some are intended to give the appearance of addressing a problem. The House version of the smoking ban is clearly the latter. It would do little to help the Iowans who are most at risk of falling ill because of exposure to second-hand smoke.

I sometimes take my kids to the Waveland, a classic old-fashioned diner in Des Moines. Last year I was stunned when the owner made that restaurant smoke-free. He said he had noticed over time that families were less likely to come because they didn’t want their kids around the smoke.

I would have thought the Waveland regulars would have rioted over a smoking ban, but the waitresses there told me everything went great with the transition. It’s a much more pleasant place to eat now, and the employees are not exposed to second-hand smoke all day long.

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