As July 1st creeps near, bar owners like Bill Duncan are getting angrier. July 1st is the day the ban on smoking in public places in Iowa goes into effect. Duncan owns the "Two of a Kind" bar in Fort Madison and predicts he’ll be out of business soon.
"It’s disturbing anytime somebody is going to take your livelihood and take it from you, which is what they’re literally doing to me because 90 percent of my customers smoke. I don’t have food. We’re basically a neighborhood bar. We have potato chips and that’s it," Duncan says. "We don’t have room for a beer garden, if they’re allowing that. I don’t know how you could even understand what the rules are, they keep changing them."
Some bar owners thought they might qualify for an exemption which would allow smoking on patios if the bar served food, but the rules drafted by the Iowa Department of Public Health are narrowly written so that few bars would qualify. The Board of Health meets today to review and approve those rules.
Duncan’s been fighting flood waters in Fort Madison for more than a week and doesn’t plan to make a personal appeal to the board, partly because he says they’ve already got their minds made up. "From what I can tell, a few people decided to do it and they’re going to do it no matter what," Duncan says. "From my side of the coin, it looks like what they do is propaganda. They come up with figures saying that this is what people want, so they’re going to do it."
Duncan, who is a nonsmoker, says it’s not about smoking, but about rights and his right to run his business the way he sees fit. "I’m being wronged as much as you can wrong anybody. Now who’s going to do something about it? The big bad state?" Duncan asks. "…The slippery slope is going pretty fast. It’s me today, but who is it going to be tomorrow?"
Duncan is among a group of bar owners who’ve talked with former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, who’s also a lawyer, about suing the state. Their legal argument is that the law’s exemption to allow smoking in the bars and restaurants at the state’s casinos is unconstitutional. The bar owners say the law creates the casinos as a special class of establishments, separate from other businesses that also sell drinks and food but can no longer allow their customers to smoke.