The state Board of Health has unanimously voted to amend the rules governing Iowa’s Smoke Free Air Act.
One change would allow local authorities to decide whether smoking is banned on the sidewalks surrounding government-owned buildings.
That means smoking might be allowed on the sidewalk surrounding the local courthouse, or it might be banned. Bonnie Mapes of the Iowa Department of Public Health says smokers will have to look for the signs.
"Every city building is different. There are cities with city squares where the city hall or the courthouse is right in the middle of the square and in those cities, the whole square is smoke-free," Mapes says. "We’ve had cities that have designated their landfills to be smoke-free."
Despite the potential for confusion, Board of Health member Rowe Winecoff says after a recent visit to Iowa City, he believes people are beginning to accept the law. "A patron in one of the bars was complaining about having to go outside to smoke and the bar owner said, ‘You know, we’re all trying to deal with this at this point,’ Winecoff says, "and his comment was, ‘We’re going to learn how to deal with it,’ and we will." Another rule change would allow Iowans to file smoking complaints anonymously.
Board members say it’s intended to protect employees who want to file a complaint, but don’t want to face retribution from their boss. Bar owners had objected to this idea before, but none attended today’s board of health meeting to register their complaints. Instead, anti-smoking activists lined up to urge the board of adopt the change.
Kerry Wise, a project manager for the American Lung Association, says the smoking ban is prompting more smokers to quit. "At the American Lung Association we’re already starting to see the calls and the numbers of people asking what resources are available for them to quit, especially in the last couple of weeks — once the weather’s gotten colder people have started calling in," Wise says. "They’re tired of having to go outside and they’re saying, "That’s it. We’re ready to quit. What can we do?’ and so we’re seeing that positive impact."
Next month a legislative committee will review the proposed rule changes allowing anonymous complaints about smoking and allowing local officials to decide whether smoking’s allowed on sidewalks surrounding city and county property.