Changes are being proposed in Iowa’s statewide smoking ban to alter or clarify certain parts of the controversial rules that took effect in July. Bonnie Mapes, director of the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Use and Prevention Control division, says a new rule would let someone report a smoking violation anonymously.
Mapes says it’s intended to protect an employee who complains about an employer. Mapes says, "We were getting a lot of questions from other departments who do act on anonymous complaints and feel it’s a very important part of the enforcement process." A coalition of small business owners who are opposed to the smoking ban object to the new rule.
Randy Stanford, of Des Moines, urged a state legislative panel Tuesday to block the change. Stanford says: "They’re wanting to take away your right to know your accuser. It’s wrong. They can go around and make up anything they want. You get a local law official who doesn’t like you, a local building inspector, anybody, an ex-employee — they’re building a file on you."
Some Iowa tavern owners angrily reject a report that shows the smoking ban will not hurt their bottom line. Iowa-specific data isn’t available yet, so Mapes says they reviewed the sales tax receipts and liquor license applications in the 24 other states with smoking bans.
Mapes says, "In no state, in no instance has there been a documented impact on businesses." The state Board of Health is scheduled to adopt the rule changes next month, which means they’ll go before the legislative panel in December. Data on any impact from the smoking ban on Iowa businesses isn’t expected until February. Emmetsburg bar owner Brent Buhrow says by that time, his doors could be closed.
Buhrow says, "I have a four-year-old son, and my wife and I put our life savings into this place trying to make it go and now because of this law, we’re losing it." Buhrow says his business is down 30% since the smoking ban began on July 1st.
Bar owners criticize a rule that classifies any establishment that serves prepared food as a restaurant — which means they can’t allow smoking on the patio. Other proposed changes are more in the category of clarifications. For example, the new rules would provide a definition of a public building — which means it’s owned or operated by the government. It also gives local authorities more discretion over whether to prohibit smoking on the sidewalks surrounding public buildings.