OPINION

Healthiest State? Not where money’s concerned

Staff Writer
Story City Herald

—by Bill Haglund

Last Wednesday Iowans from East to West, North to South and corner to corner all walked as part of Iowa’s “Healthiest State Initiative.”

The walk is part of an effort that, it’s hoped, will take Iowa to the top of all 50 states when it comes to the health of its residents. Iowa’s already in the top 10.

I think it’s a great thing, even though 100 percent total good health is way behind me. Even at that, I can still improve my health with some moderate exercise, like taking a walk every day. I try to do that, although there are days the old legs have other ideas.

There’s just one thing that bothers me, though.

Our governor has repeatedly backed the effort to improve Iowa’s health. He’s encouraged Iowans to take part in the “Healthiest State Initiative” walks and, I think, it’s helped. Countless thousands of Iowans joined in the walk last week as we try to elevate the state’s health to best-in-the-nation status.

Yeah. Hooray.

But, you have to put things in perspective.

While our governor voiced his support for the health initiative last week, a week earlier he had a different message to Iowans.

“I don’t think we’ll eliminate smoking from casinos,” he told us.

Why?

Money, that’s why.

Casinos simply generate too much money for the overall economy of Iowa that the money usurps Iowan’s health.

Well, I don’t think you can have it both ways, Mr. Governor. Either you want Iowa to be the healthiest state in the nation, or you value the almighty dollar even more.

I’ve said before that I was a long-time smoker. I still have close relatives who choose to smoke. I feel fortunate that I kicked the filthy habit several years ago.

Now, I can’t stand the smell of second-hand smoke.

I remember when smoking was first banned in most public places in Iowa several years ago. Proprietors of restaurants and bars raised quite a ruckus over the measure, complaining that not allowing folks to smoke in their establishments would drive them out of business.

Well, look at today. It hasn’t happened. Iowans have become accustomed to smoke-free environments when they go out to eat, or when they join their friends for a friendly after-work drink.

What a wonderful thing that is. Smokers haven’t stopped going to bars and restaurants – they simply take their filthy habit outside.

But, Iowa’s casinos are apparently immune to any regulations.

Before you tell me that I don’t have to go to casinos if I don’t like smoke, I’ll tell you that I have every right to go to a casino, if I choose, and I shouldn’t be subjected to someone else’s smoke.

Granted, casinos offer non-smoking areas. However, you have to walk through a cloud of someone else’s smoke to get there. Even then, there’s no sanctuary from smoke. Smokers, many of them anyway, think no smoking areas are optional. They carry lighted cigarettes (even cigars, ugh!) into non-smoking areas to get soft drinks. They ignore the signs entirely, and get offensive when you tell them they are smoking in an area designated as non-smoking.

“I didn’t see the sign,” they say in a tone that lets you know they feel offended. “I’m only walking through here to another area,” they say, as if that makes it okay.

And, if you happen to be so unlucky as to bump into a smoker holding a cigarette and you get a burn on your clothes, well, too bad. It’s not their fault. After all, smoking is legal.

A non-smoking friend of mine told me about sitting at a machine at an area casino. No one was around, and there were lots and lots of unoccupied machines. Yet, a woman chose a seat right next to him, immediately lit a cigarette and held it so that the smoke circled his head. When he waved his hands to get the smoke away from his face, the woman became quite indignant.

“Don’t you ever do that again,” she said. “This is a smoking area and I have every right to smoke.”

Unfortunately, that’s the attitude of a lot of smokers these days. Casinos are sanctuaries for them and they know it. There’s really nothing that can be done as long as our governor says nothing will be done because of the money casinos generate each year.

Money.

It’s far more powerful than the healthiest state initiative.

I should have more rights than a smoker when it comes to health. I rarely go to casinos any longer because the smoke had driven me away.

I think my rights as a non-smoker are being violated. I don’t think I should be under assault with a dangerous weapon – and that’s just what a cigarette is – just because I’d like to find a few hours’ entertainment at a casino.

Please, please, please … do something!

(Bill Haglund is a retired staff writer for the Dallas County News and Boone News Republican. He can be reached at bhaglund13@msn.com)