The Iowa Board of Health today approved controversial new rules for implementing the statewide smoking ban, which goes into effect Tuesday. The rules classify nearly every bar that serves hot food as a restaurant – which means they can’t allow smoking on an outdoor patio. Bar owners railed against the proposed rule at a preliminary hearing last month. But the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Director, Bonnie Mapes, defends the definition. She says Iowa’s definition is consistant with public smoking bans put into place in most other states.
The rules will prohibit smoking on outdoor patios of bars that “prepare food on site.” Some lawmakers have criticized the definition but the Iowa lobbyist for the American Cancer Society, Peggy Huppert, urged the board to stand firm. “We’ve been hearing from our advocates, who worked so hard to get this law passed, (that they) are distressed when they hear bar owners say ‘we’re not going to comply with this law, come and make me’ or police chiefs say ‘I’m not going to enforce the law’…so we fully understand the emotion, fears and complexity,” Huppert said.
Most opponents of the smoking ban skipped the board meeting saying the ten member panel already had their minds made up. In their absence, bar owners were represented by an unlikely ally. Chuck Davis is a long time anti-smoking advocate from Urbandale who says even he thinks the bar definition is too strict. “You’ve got bars out there that have menus, but maybe only 20 percent of their revenue is food. They have full menus and prepare…but kids can’t come in there and I really think they should be allowed to have smoking on their patios,” Davis told board members. But public health officials say they’re simply following a definition used by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.
Meanwhile, the Iowa Department of Public Health says it will not exempt Iowa schools from posting thousands of new, no-smoking signs required under the Smoke-Free Air Act. However, they will provide the majority of the signage for free.