As Iowa legislators prepare for another sesson this January, they expect the smoking ban to receive renewed debate.
Local legislators say they'll push for exemptions across the board in 21 and over establishments if given the chance, saying the playing field needs to be leveled. One local leader says that enforcement of the ban has become "a joke."
Local bar owners say the ban has hurt business. Bruce Carlson, owner of Brewsters, says they didn't see much drop during the summer months in business but with colder weather, the loss is obvious. "I know for a fact there are some people who don't go out as much," says Carlson.
The difficult economy hasn't helped matters, he says.
"I had my liquor license modified so they could drink outside," said Carlson, through that doesn't help in winter. He said that while he has lost some business he won't have to consider closing. He has cut down the number of employee hired.
Puffs Manager Cary Boyd says the ban has hurt his business and says he hasn't seen that many non-smokers coming in now that the air is smoke free - at least not enough to make up for the losses. "Yeah we should have a choice. They're taking a right away from us," he says.
Republican Representative Gary Worthan agrees that it should be the business owner's choice whether or not to allow smoking. Government should not continue to dictate behavior, he feels. He says family restaurants should remain smoke free to protect the health of families and young children, but bars are a different story.
Local legislators said the most likely change may be debating elimination of the exemption that allows smoking in casino buildings - which other businesses find unfair.
"I think they'll take a run at taking the casino exemption out of he law. It's anybody's guess how far that'll go," says Worthan. Many state officials fear removing smoking from casinos will drive away business from casinos and ultimately drive down tax revenue for Iowa. Worthan said casino revenue went down in Illinois when they banned smoking in casinos.
Worthan said he received some calls from concerned bar owners. One owner would call and wonder what to do when his business was slow as he complied with the law while a competitior down the street who was not enforcing the ban had all the business. "That was the question from the first day we talked about it," says Worth. "Who's going to enforce it?" He said it didn't sound like law enforcement wanted to bother with it because they didn't have the time. With no one to stepping up to enforce it and no financial incentives offered to enforce he said the enforcement side of things has become a joke.
Some opponents of the ban said they'd like to see the ban completely revoked. Republican Senator Steve Kettering who opposes the ban says he doesn't think there's a possibility of that this year. He agrees with Worthan and says smoking should be allowed in 21 and over establishments. Kettering said he felt there'd be plenty of businesses non-smokers could go to if they wished to stay out of the smoke.
Some say smoking should be banned in every public place. "How about banning the sale? You can only take that argument so far," Kettering says. He says there are different aspects of the law that are just plain silly including some areas even outside where a person can't smoke, he says.
Kettering said there have been some lawsuits from bar owners on the law, but that they have limited chance of success.