Scott County Board of Health members have issued two unrelated calls for action, one that smoking be prohibited in any new casino built in Davenport and another to continue Iowa’s prohibition on the sale of raw milk.
Both actions were taken during the board’s regular monthly meeting Thursday at the county Administrative Center in Davenport.
Board chairwoman Denise Coiner of Davenport believes the state’s regulations against smoking in almost all public places — plus enclosed areas within workplaces and some outdoor areas — should be extended to the new gaming venues being considered by the city of Davenport. Illinois casinos, including Jumer’s in Rock Island, are completely smoke-free.
“I think that we, as the county’s health board, need to take a stand,” she said.
Davenport officials announced in October that they would seek to acquire the Rhythm City Casino from the Isle of Capri for at least $46 million. City Administrator Craig Malin said this week that the city hopes to have an asset purchase application ready to submit to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission on April 18.
Plans call for placing the new casino near the interstates 80 and 280 interchange in the northwest area of the city, and to possibly have a smaller satellite casino in downtown Davenport.
Health board members agreed unanimously to send the letter to Davenport. The letter also states that the use of a ventilation system to mitigate the effects of second-hand smoke, a current practice in Iowa casinos, falls short of having the desired effect.
“The Scott County Board of Health urges the city of Davenport and the Davenport Community Improvement Corp. to enact a smoke-free policy in the proposed casino, to protect and preserve the health of Iowans,” part of the letter reads.
“I think we need to get rid of all smoking in our community,” said Ken Wilcke, a retired veterinarian who has been on the health board since 2011.
The board voted on the issue after hearing from Edward Rivers, the health department administrator. Rivers pointed out that the Iowa Legislature has not agreed to change the exemption in the state’s smoke-free law that allows smoking in state-regulated casinos. Casino proponents fear that a change would result in decreased gaming revenues.
A bill to allow the sale of raw milk has been introduced in the Iowa Legislature, but health board members think the existing law should remain in effect.
“It is the board’s conclusion that science supports the prohibition of the sale of raw milk in Iowa,” reads part of a letter being sent to the state.
Eric Bradley, an environmental health specialist for Scott County, gave the board a presentation on raw milk. He also chairs the legislative committee of the Iowa Environmental Health Association.
Bradley’s presentation explained that milk is pasteurized to make it safe for human consumption. Raw milk — which is neither pasteurized nor homogenized — can cause a variety of diseases that include gastroenteritis, diarrhea and hemolytic uremic syndrome, which causes sudden, acute kidney failure in children.
Iowa is the only state in the Midwest that bans the sale of raw milk. All states that surround Iowa allow the product to be sold, but consumers in those states must buy it on a farm or get it at a farmers market.
The position of the Scott County Health Board mirrors similar ones from Black Hawk and Cerro Gordo counties. Many health officials and organizations around the state, such as the Iowa Medical Society, support the raw milk law as it stands.
Health officials stress that the product may be particularly hard on children because their immune systems are not as strong or well-developed as needed to fight off infections that could develop from drinking raw milk.
In fact, Cathy McGonigle-Martin, a California woman who will visit Iowa to testify on the dangers, gave raw milk to her son, who then suffered a variety of health issues, including renal failure, seizures and congestive heart failure,
But raw milk advocates see the topic as a question of personal freedom and consumer choice. Some also believe it would be a way to help young farmers get a start in the expensive dairy business.
Dr. Louis Katz, the health department’s medical director, supported the board’s decision to issue a letter urging that the law be maintained.
“Adults talk about free consent when they drink raw milk, but those children can’t give their consent. And they are the ones most likely to contract the kidney damage,” he said.
The raw milk issue is scheduled to be discussed at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Iowa Capitol. Both sides of the matter are expected to be represented.