An Iowa Senate committee has pushed through legislation that gives local communities the right to ban smoking in public places. Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, says the bill still faces an uphill battle but he’s optimistic.
Quirmbach was on the city council when Ames banned smoking in bars and restaurants seven years ago. “In 20 months operation not one business went out of business,” Quirmbach says. “And indeed even since the Supreme Court’s decision which says the ordinance can’t be enforced any more, 95 percent of the restaurants in Ames are continuing to obey the ordinance on a voluntary basis — including four of the seven plaintiffs.”
But Senator Brad Zahn, a Republican from Urbandale, says individual businesses should decide whether or not to allow smoking, not local governments. Zaun, who used to run a hardware store in Urbandale, says he’s worried this is just the first step toward a statewide smoking ban — something at least a few Democratic legislators have proposed.
“I think this bill skirts our responsibility as elected officials to pass laws,” Zaun says. “Now I’m not advocating for this law, but it seems to me by putting the monkey on the back of local municipalities, that’s exactly what we’ve done.” Iowa’s attorney general says Iowa is one of only 17 states without either a statewide ban on smoking in public places, or a law allowing local governments to pass anti-smoking ordinances that’re tougher than the state standard.
Quirmbach, the Democrat from Ames, is among those who argue it’s a public health issue. According to Quirmback, 53,000 Americans die every year from second-hand smoke, and over 500 of them are Iowans. “That’s more than ten Iowans a week,” Quirmbach says. Zaun responded.
Zaun says those 53,000 people had a choice which businesses to patronize and Zaun says a lot of restaurant owners he knows have established no-smoking zones or banned smoking in their entire restaurant. Zaun says they should have the right to make that decision, as an individual business owner. Zaun says nonsmokers can already choose not to patronize restaurants that allow smoking and he calls the bill an attack on small businesses.