Iowa’s new public smoking ban went into effect at midnight. The fine for lighting up in a no-smoking area is $50. Business owners who fail to enforce the law face a $100 fine.
First-time offenders will probably get a warning rather than a fine according to Bonnie Mapes, the tobacco use prevention and control coordinator for the Iowa Department of Public Health.
"Our whole emphasis, at least for the first few months, is educate, educate, educate because we know — except for the very small percentage of people who might want to take some kind of public stand and that’s not very many ’cause it hasn’t been in any other state — we know that if we can do that, we’re going to gain compliance," Mapes says.
Mapes expects her office will field up to 4,000 complaints during the first year, but she predicts less than 1,000 will result in a visit from a state investigator. Based on the experience of other states which have smoking bans in force, Mapes predicts a significant drop in complaints during the second year.
"So in the first year you can expect maybe 800 compliance checks. By the time you get to the second year you’re looking at maybe 200 or 300 compliance checks," she says. "By the third year it’s become the community norm and there’s virtually nothing that needs to be done."
The Department of Public Health has fielded lots of phone calls about the smoking ban. "The vast majority of people, at least, who are contacting us are contacting us because they want to comply," Mapes says. "They just need to know how."
In the past week, there’s been a mad rush in many businesses to put up the new no-smoking-zone signs which are now required by this new law. The signs must be very specific and must include a phone number and website for complaints.
Iowa Tobacco Prevention Alliance president Cathy Calloway admits the new signs may seem redundant in businesses or schools where smoking has been banned for years, but she says a consistent message is important.
"It’s seen as a best practice so that people are very clear where you can and where you can’t smoke," Calloway says, "and when it’s very apparent where you can and where you can’t, that’s what makes these laws go into effect so smoothly."
The facilities manager for Iowa Health Systems says it took a handful of staff a day-and-a-half to post several hundred new signs in their three hospitals and 18 clinics. Businesses that still need signs can contact the Iowa Department of Public Health or the American Lung Association, which has some free signs available.