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Telegraph Herald. July 11, 2014.

Tobacco ban in parks but not casinos?

The Iowa city of Epworth just got tough on smoking. Even though state law already prohibits smoking in enclosed public spaces or public places where lots of people congregate, Epworth recently made it illegal to smoke inside the perimeter of the city’s parks. On a 3-2 vote, the City Council banned the use of tobacco and nicotine products, including e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, in city parks, with a couple of exceptions.

One might wonder: Just how big a problem is smoking in Epworth parks? One might assume it’s a significant issue if a group felt strongly enough about it to lobby for the change.

Actually, though, it wasn’t a rash of smokers in Epworth parks that brought this issue to the fore. It turns out that local health officials must make at least one park or recreation area in the county tobacco-free as a requirement of a grant from the Iowa Department of Public Health. City officials in Dubuque weren’t inclined to further prohibit smoking in an outdoor, wide open space, just to satisfy the state grant requirements. But anti-smoking advocates got Epworth to comply.

Not that banning tobacco in parks is a bad thing. Kids hang out in parks. And the fewer places kids see adults smoking, the less likely they are to gravitate toward the nasty habit. Or one might hope. Plus, smokers have a tendency to toss cigarette butts wherever they please; so the parks might be a bit tidier.

Still, for the Iowa Department of Public Health to hold state funding hostage to pressure communities to make a few parks tobacco-free doesn’t seem to be aiming very high. If state officials are concerned about secondhand smoke, they have bigger targets they could pursue.

Like casinos, for instance.

For six years, Iowa casinos have enjoyed a gaping loophole in the state’s smoking ban. In 2008, when lawmakers prohibited smoking in public places, they cowed to the casino lobby and granted gambling establishments an exemption. So, despite a statewide ban by which all other businesses must abide, gamblers are allowed to smoke away in Iowa’s casinos. Apparently, the state’s concerns about secondhand smoke end at the casino door. Casino workers and non-smoking gamblers take a back seat to the gambling revenue flowing to state coffers. It just doesn’t make sense.

Creating more smoke-free places is generally a positive thing. But if we really want to move the needle on public health as it pertains to cigarette smoke, the state should be looking at casinos, not parks.

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Sioux City Journal. July 9, 2014.

Drive through I-29 work zone with care

As the controversy over traffic cameras in Sioux City rages on, we watch with incredulity.

Is all of this time and effort, all of this angst and anger, necessary? Must city square off against state or state square off against state?

Story Continues →