Iowa's new smoking ban is getting mixed reviews in the Storm Lake area, admits Nona Sand, a smoking prevention advocate with the Buena Vista County Public Health Department.
"It seems to be going very well some places, and others not," she said of the controversial public smoking ban, which went into effect July 1.
"The biggest complaint I hear isn't that the restaurants and bars have to do it, but that they are upset with the exceptions the state is allowing elsewhere (including casinos)," Sand said.
The state's prevention advocates are going after those exceptions next, Sand confides, looking to close any loopholes left by the legislature when they took the unexpected action last session.
"A lot of businesses are talking about building outdoor patios to get around the law, and I've heard some rumors about some places in Storm Lake looking at that, but I'm not sure I would do that. The word is that those patio situations may be what the states goes after next," Sand says.
The Buena Vista County anti-smoking advocate says that there is some indication that the interest in smoking cessation programs is increasing modestly since the smoking ban went into place.
Ironically, the state's ability to respond to the interest has been dampened - quite literally.
The floods earlier this season hit storage areas where the state's Health Department quit-smoking materials were stored, ruining their supply of pamphlets and other items that it was providing for the public.
There are plenty of tools, however, for people who do want to quit - the United Community Health Center in Storm Lake is providing a 12-week ongoing course to help people stop smoking, and a relatively new medication called Chantix available through physicians is proving even more effective than the patch and other alternatives.
"There was a luncheon held last year where Dr. David Archer introducted the medication in the community. It is not inexpensive, but if you do the math, a pack of Marlboro now costs $5.39, so a pack a day habit costs $30 more a month than the drug would," Sand says.
Those who are choosing to smoke seem to be adapting to the ban. "You can see little clusters of people outside some of the businesses, so it does seem that they are complying with the rules," she added.
About 40 businesspeople attended a teleconference meeting in Storm Lake just before the ban went into place. "Nobody was very happy at that point. The legislature kind of snuck up on us, and there were a lot of exemptions. The law we have is much better than not having anything, but there is some confusion in it - it is confusing for us too," the Public Health representative said.
The Iowa Department of Public Health will be broadcasting an Iowa Communications Network meeting on Friday to allow the public to air comments on the new smoking ban. One site will be Iowa Central Community College room #16 in Storm Lake, from 2:30-4:30 p.m. The public is being encouraged to comment on any changes that could be made to the Smoke-Free Air Act.
Sand feels the law will see some tweaking in the next legislature and possibly beyond, but that the public will quickly adapt.
"Illinois had passed a law before Iowa, and we are told that after the first six months, it was just as though nothing had happened," Sand said.
Local business owners are adapting as well, for some it's hurt business, others it's improved. Lakeshore Family Restaurant manager Mike Myott says the ban has benefited his business. "We lost a few customers in the beginning but in the end it's helped our business quite a bit because now people can sit wherever they want," Myott says. He adds that he's also seen several new customers as well - he attributes some of that to the smoke free atmosphere. "Can't complain about that," he says. The restaurant previously had a designated area for smoking.
Jackie Noble, Manager of Embers, says she hasn't seen a lot of lost of business with the smoking ban, however, she says she has noticed more famiies with younger children coming in. "In fact the people who are grumbling are the non-smokers," she says. "It's taken away people's rights." Prior to the smoking ban smoking was only allowed in the bar portion of the establishment.
However, some businesses aren't so happy. Smokey's Bar Bartender Doris Scharton says she has seen business suffer since the ban took effect. "I've seen some of the regulars who smoke come in but don't stay very long," she says says. Scharton says she's also noticed some regular customers who don't show up at all anymore.
"I believe the bar owners should have the right to decide whether or not they should have smoking in their bar."