The Iowa House has voted to enact a ban on smoking in most public places, but would still allow it in bars, restaurants and gambling casinos that opt to serve alcohol and keep kids out at night.

Representative McKinley Bailey, a Democrat from Webster City, said Iowa’s small businesses need a pass on going smoke-free.  "This allows small town bars that serve as restaurants to the community during the day to go smoke-free and allow children in and serve as a bar at night with smoking allowed," Bailey said. "This is the only way most of these businesses can continue to operate. In many communities, the bar/restaurant is the only business in town and an important part of the community."

Representative Phil Wise, a Democrat from Keokuk, opposed the move, arguing smoke lingers for days in a bar. "The notion that you can have smoking in an establishment from let’s say six o’clock at night to two o’clock the next morning and then open up for breakfast at six a.m. and that that’s a nonsmoking facility is absurd," Wise said. The House, however, has voted to allow just that.

Representative Cecil Dolecheck, a Republican from Mount Ayr, says an outright smoking ban would shut the doors on many bars and restaurants in rural Iowa. "Allow these businesses to continue to operate," Dolecheck said.

Representative Dave Heaton, a Republican who runs a restaurant in Mount Pleasant, wasn’t wild about the proposal, however, arguing it will be difficult for businesses that serve alcohol to comply with the requirement to keep kids under the age of 21 out if smoking’s allowed. "I can’t imagine…having to post ’21 years or older’ at the door of my restaurant and only being able to serve those over 21. My bar is in a separate area. My bar has separate air treatment and I have no problem at restricting the people in my bar to the age of 21," Heaton said. "And I think there are other communities, such as Iowa City, who might also relish the fact that they would be able to restrict those in bars to the age of 21."

Representative Ro Foege, a Democrat from Mount Vernon, said he understands businesses are worried about doing something new. "In Ireland and in Scotland, all the pubs have gone smoke-free…and there was a lot of turmoil, like there is in Iowa, and fear about going smoke-free," Foege said. "Prior to going smoke-free it was mostly guys in the pubs…smoking away…Now, without smoke, those pubs are filled with kids and families…and they’re actually doing more business."

But Representative Roger Thomas, a Democrat from Elkader, said he believes a smoking ban would put some small town bars and restaurants out of business. "I’ve never smoked…but I’m also very knowledgeable about what it takes to keep a business running," Thomas said.

Representative Tyler Olson, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, argued against the idea of allowing smoking in casinos, bars and restaurants. "Obviously, I’m disappointed in the outcome…but I think it’s important that we keep this legislation moving forward," Olson said.

The bill now goes back to the Iowa Senate. The Senate earlier voted for a more expansive, statewide ban on smoking in public places but now senators must consider the more lax stand the House has taken on the issue. It’s likely the matter will be decided — if it’s decided — in a 10-member conference committee made up of members from both the House and Senate.