Smoking ban gets mixed reviews on first day

DES MOINES, Iowa – Bar manager Tim Hutchins spent part of Tuesday morning posting No Smoking signs, tossing out ash trays and planning for a new era at his downtown Des Moines pub.

In the days leading up to Iowa’s smoking ban, Hutchins has heard plenty of grumbling from customers, but others have praised the restrictions that went into effect on Tuesday.

“It’s been about 50-50. There have been a lot of people complaining, but there are a lot of people excited about it,” said Hutchins, who has worked at the Royal Mile for about five years. “I had a lot of friends who wouldn’t come here because it was too smoky.”

Across the state, business owners and customers were having similar discussions as the ban approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Chet Culver goes into effect at most workplaces, restaurants and bars. The law exempts casinos, fairgrounds and veterans organizations.

Many bar and restaurant owners have complained that it wasn’t fair to have different rules for different sites, and some have raised money to fund a lawsuit that seeks to strip the law of the exemptions.

Greg Fontanini, owner of Francie’s bar in southwest Des Moines, said the indoor ban makes sense but that the rules for which bars can allow outdoor smoking are inconsistent.

If a bar serves prepackaged foods such as pretzels and frozen pizza, smoking is allowed on an outdoor patio. But if it serves burgers and sandwiches, like Francie’s, it’s considered a restaurant and there’s a total ban on lighting up.

“I think (the rules) are confusing to the general public,” said Fontanini. “And, I think they are still a little bit unfair.”

Darla Andrews, a smoker who works at Rainbow Laundry in Des Moines, said she accepts the need for a ban inside businesses and restaurants, but not an outdoor ban at so many bars.

“People go there to socialize and do their smoking and their drinking, and it should be one place you should be allowed to do that,” she said, adding that she’ll likely go to the casinos more often because of the smoking exemptions. “Anything outside, it shouldn’t be banned.”

Under the law, a person caught smoking in a banned area is subject to a $50 fine. Businesses that don’t enforce the Smokefree Air Act face a $100 fine for the first offense, $200 for a second offense and $500 for other violations within one year.

Mark Wheeler was smoking a hand-rolled cigarette in front of a coffee shop in downtown Des Moines on Tuesday morning. The 44-year-old said the smoking ban violates his rights, and he’s especially upset about not being able to light up on outdoor patios.

“I’m outside, so what harm am I doing to anybody else,” he said. “It’s free air, it’s not like I’m getting charged to breathe outside.”

Wheeler, part owner of a small cafe, said police will have a difficult time enforcing the ban, which requires that a complaint be called in. He said legislators could have spent their time in better ways than banning smoking.

“I think they’re crazy. I think they’ve been up there in that office too long trying to come down on hardworking people,” said Wheeler.

His friend, 42-year-old Lisa Wise, said the ban will effect where she goes.

“If I can’t smoke there, I’m not going to eat there,” she said.

Gov. Chet Culver said in a statement that studies show second-hand smoke kills about 500 Iowans each year. He said that’s why lawmakers passed the ban.

“I understand there are compelling arguments against this bill, but the bottom line is this bill will save lives, plain and simple,” Culver said.

His office has said the governor would have preferred a statewide ban with no exemptions.

Cynthia Hallett, executive director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, a lobbying organization based in Berkeley, Calif., said 13 states including Iowa now have smoking bans in workplaces, restaurants and bars.

She said the exemptions in Iowa are unfortunate, but for her that’s because “all workers deserve the right to a smoke-free workplace.” She predicts lawmakers will revisit the ban to remove the exemptions.

“The law is going to go into effect and everyone is going to discover that everything is fine … and they are going to realize they have left out some workers and they’ll go back and strengthen that law,” she said.

Hutchins, the manager at the Royal Mile, doesn’t think the ban will hurt business at his bar, which will soon get new carpet and a deep clean to rid it of the smoky smell that still lingers. As a matter of fact, he thinks the business might sell more food to nonsmokers who aren’t being turned off by second-hand smoke.

One worry, though, is that the ban will push smokers outside in front of restaurants and bars, and customers could be forced to walk through clouds of smoke before entering those establishments.

“That could be a problem. There’s going to be a lot of cigarette butts all over the sidewalk, that’s for sure,” Hutchins said.

Fontanini, the owner of Francie’s, said that’s where patio smoking would have come in handy.

“You could have contained the mess a little bit more,” he said.

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