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A push for permanent smoking ban in Iowa casinos

A man smoking in a gambling circle

DES MOINES, Iowa — The risks facing health-care providers, retail staff and public service employees during the COVID-19 crisis have brought renewed focus on workplace safeguards.

In Iowa, there is a push to add protections for a certain class of hospitality workers.

The state’s 2008 law that prohibits smoking in public places includes an exemption for casinos, which still can allow “lighting up” on gaming floors. Some venues, including all the states tribal casinos, have temporarily banned indoor smoking during COVID-19.

Health advocates say it’s time for Iowa to institute a permanent ban.

Stacy Frelund, Iowa government relations director for the American Heart Association, said the longstanding concern has more urgency now.

“We have had casino workers in the past reach out to our coalition about having to be exposed to second-hand smoke,” Frelund observed. “In this time that we’re in right now, it only makes sense to provide health to all of our workers throughout the state.”

Frelund noted they also want to protect non-smoking patrons at casinos. Her group is in talks with lawmakers to get a bill introduced this session that would amend the law.

In the past, state-licensed casinos have argued against such efforts, saying it would hurt their ability to attract customers, especially those near bordering states that also allow casino smoking.

But Frelund argued if casinos want to stay relevant, they should try to cater to a customer base that could keep their operations thriving in the long run.

“A lot of your younger population is accustomed to having smoke-free places,” Frelund pointed out.

The American Heart Association is also pushing for passage of a bill that would pave the way for e-cigarettes to be covered by theĀ Smokefree Air Act.

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