Bar owners are protesting the way the state plans to implement a smoking ban on July 1, 2008. The Iowa Clean Air Act approved by lawmakers this spring included a loophole which would allow smoking on outdoor patios at bars, but new rules drafted by the Iowa Department of Public Health classify nearly every bar that serves hot food as a restaurant, which means no smoking on the patio.
Larry Barry owns bars in Indianola and Des Moines and he says serving an occasional hamburger doesn’t make a bar a restaurant. “I think it’s ridiculous to say we can serve only popcorn, peanuts and a frozen pizza and if you take these outside areas away, there’ll be more businesses going out of business,” Barry says.
Barry, along with half a dozen other bar owners, testified Wednesday before the legislative committee that’s reviewing the public health department’s rules. Joe Sturgis owns a bar in Davenport called the Rusty Nail. “Already our businesses are down because of the economy and this law is going to crucify a lot of businesses,” Sturgis told lawmakers in Des Moines. A rusty nail, the drink that’s the namesake of his bar, is made with scotch, drambuie and a twist of lemon.
Bill Duncan, who owns a bar in Fort Madison, was considering construction of an adjoining patio, but may abandon that if smoking won’t be allowed on it. “Eighty to 90 percent of my customers smoke and they are good, hardworking people,” Duncan told legislators. “You guys are forcing me with this law to commit financial suicide.”
Several lawmakers also expressed concerns about the health department’s proposed rules for the state’s anti-smoking law and urged the agency to consider redrafting their definition of a bar and present an alternative next month to the committee for review. Representative McKinley Bailey, a Democrat from Webster City, accused state public health officials of ignoring the legislature’s wishes. “These emergency rules make us liars because we went home and these small business owners came to us and we told them, ‘Yea, go ahead and build a patio because we passed a law that says a bar can have a patio that people can smoke on,'” Bailey said.
According to Bailey, any place that sells more alcohol than food should be classified as a bar, not a restaurant. Bailey lectured public health officials who drafted the proposed rules which classify any establishment which sells hot food as a restaurant. “This is an absolute perversion of the legislative intent, period,” Bailey said.
Iowa Department of Public Health officials cite problems in other states after some proprietors were caught doctoring their sales receipts to indicate they sold more liquor than food.