Members of Iowa's Gambling Casino Restricted License Study Committee believe Iowa needs a smoke-free casino.

They're right — to a point. They shouldn't have stopped there. How about making all of the casinos smoke-free?

After a pitch for a smoke-free casino in Cedar Rapids failed in the 2015 Iowa legislative session, a group of lawmakers formed this study committee to keep the issue alive.

This shouldn't be that difficult. Is a smoke-free casino a good idea? It's a great idea. If restaurants, bars, government buildings, hospitals, workplaces and virtually all other facilities of public accommodation are smoke-free, why not casinos?

Iowa shouldn't feel compelled to OK a new casino just so it has one that is smoke-free. Instead, lawmakers should undo the poor, even duplicitous decision they made years ago when they handed gambling facilities a huge loophole in the state smoking ban.

The message they sent was this: What's good for the health of Iowa workers and customers just isn't that important if it might interfere with the state's revenue streams from gambling.

It's as if some state officials haven't noticed the reams of evidence that have stacked up over the last 50 years making the case against smoking and second-hand smoke.

The committee this week met with the director of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to talk over the possibility of licensing a smoke-free casino in Cedar Rapids.

According to a report on Iowa Public Radio, the exchange went like this:

Democrat Kirsten Running-Marquardt asked Gaming Commission Administrator Brian Ohorilko about the safety standards the casinos are supposed to have in place.

"Is smoking and second-hand smoke a safety issue?" Running-Marquardt asked.

"I don't think we have the answer to that," Ohorilko said. And then: "It depends on who you ask."

"It's been determined," Running-Marquardt said. "Scientists and health experts have determined that second-hand smoke is a safety concern. Why don't they consider it a safety issue?" she asked.

"I'm not trying to dodge your question, Representative," Ohorilka said. "It's not something that's been asked of the commission."

Right.

So, the director of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission isn't sure if second-hand smoke is a safety concern. He thinks it depends who you ask. And personally, his committee hasn't been asked.

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Well, let's just say we're asking, Director. Let's just say the people of Iowa and the workers in Iowa casinos would like to know if you consider second-hand smoke a safety concern. If it's not, why did the state ban smoking in public places in 2008? Lawmakers congratulated themselves on doing the right thing to protect the health of Iowa workers. Except for casino workers. What was that all about if not second-hand smoke?

In fact, it is a safety concern, no matter what Ohorilka or any other official says. A 2010 study showed more than 600,000 people worldwide die of second-hand smoke every year.

The Cedar Rapids lawmakers and others on the committee aren't just motivated by wanting a healthier gambling atmosphere. They're hoping the smoke-free approach allows them a back door to a casino license. In 2014, the same lawmakers were hoping for a gaming license for Cedar Rapids, cigarettes and all. The IRGC rejected that bid, citing studies showing that the casino market is saturated.

Now those same lawmakers are back, this time making the case for a casino that's smoke-free.

Even taking into consideration those mixed motivations, the arguments the Cedar Rapids folks are making aren't wrong. A smoke-free casino would be better for Iowans. If Iowa wants to be known as the healthiest state, it makes sense that we have smoke-free casinos.

But if state officials are really concerned about the health of citizens — beyond any healthy state designation — it makes far more sense to have all casinos smoke-free, not just one.

The Dubuque Telegraph Herald