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A law that works for everyone in Iowa

BY CHAD BORTSON - GUEST OPINION | MARCH 12, 2009 7:27 AM

As we reach nearly one year since Gov. Chet Culver signed Iowa’s Smoke-Free Air Act, the excitement has begun to die down. The general public has forgotten about the bill and has moved on, with the exception of smokers. However, many still find the law unfair and a violation of our citizens’ rights.

Prior to the passing of the Smoke Free Air Act, the habit of smoking was declining in popularity. With government funds aiding organizations such as Just Eliminate Lies and Truth, dedicated to spreading awareness of the negative effects of smoking and secondhand smoke, the use of tobacco was losing momentum. Smoking was no longer as popular, and commercials were aired to encourage our youth from using tobacco by showing the health risks that could occur from its use. There were several businesses that saw this fear as an opportunity to corner the market of nonsmokers and to allow a smoke-free social environment.

Before the smoking ban, it was difficult to ignore certain restaurants converting their indoor premises from allowing smoking to not allowing any smoking at all. This change worked for everyone because now there were bars or restaurants in favor of both sides of the argument. It looked as though the social-change theory of smoking had worked out and that people could move on and enjoy a drink or a meal within an establishment that worked for them.

There were still customers who felt that all places they visited should be smoke-free. They didn’t find it fair that they should be subjected to these health risks by simply going outside of their homes to have a good time. This began the push for the Smoke-Free Air Act. There was much support for it, because of the health risks smoking posed to the public. It didn’t take long for the law to pass, and that leaves us where we are now, approaching the one-year anniversary of the law’s enactment.

There are many strings attached to the law: no smoking indoors (with few exceptions), a $1 tax increase on cigarettes, and funding for a tobacco-prevention program. Two of these seem at least fair. Smoking is a bad addiction for people, so why not try to break it with a $1 tax increase? Also, why not use these tax revenues to fight the use of tobacco and make Iowa a healthier state? Smokers challenge the latter two, but when smokers are asked about the Smoke-Free Air Act, the thing they cannot stop talking about is the ban on indoor smoking.

Why is this a problem? Why can’t smokers just stand outside and smoke as to respect the majority of nonsmokers inside?

Many business owners have lost revenue from those who now refuse to visit their establishments because they would rather drink or eat in their own home where they can enjoy a cigarette without feeling isolated. It is a general understanding among business owners, smokers, and even some nonsmokers that there can be a compromise to this law in which everyone can feel at ease.

The simplest solution to this problem would be allowing certain places to apply for smoking permits. A permit such as this could limit the amount of smoking-allowed establishments per capita of a city or county. This would mean there would be a select percentage of businesses that could obtain these permits. It would be a low percentage, leaving the majority of businesses nonsmoking. This would give the public more freedom in deciding where to go based only on their preference of smoking.

More clauses could be added to the law making smoking more out of reach of the broader public. In the act, the state could allow permits to be given to establishments that only serve alcohol. This could mean bars, comedy clubs, or certain casinos. This way, only those who are of age to smoke would be surrounded by its dangers. This wouldn’t be harmful to children or those who are just out to eat. Those who go out to bars are drinking anyway, which can cause health problems, so select bars allowing smoking would seem to benefit everyone. Those who still don’t like the passive smoke could simply go to smoke-free bars that are not permitted to allow indoor smoking, which would be more than plentiful.

Smoking indoors as a problem has never had to affect everyone. With simple regulations, each viewpoint could be satisfied. Certain places committed to covering the permit for smoking would be allowed, and those who didn’t want to pay for it could gain more business from those who enjoy a smoke-free atmosphere. The law right now isn’t designed for everyone and is very one-sided. There are ways to make this absurd law bearable for everyone who has had any problems with or without its existence.


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