OTTUMWA — It's been five years this week since Iowa's Smoke-free Air Act went into effect. Some Iowans were thrilled, others annoyed. Business owners wondered how the move would impact sales.
Iowa bars, restaurants and clubs could no longer allow smoking indoors. Managers were ordered to remove ash trays (or anything that "could be used as an ash tray"), post "no smoking" signs with a complaint hotline number displayed and enforce the policy through an escalating series of measures culminating in calling police on a smoker.
A few refused to comply.
"My stance was [that] I refused to send a World War II veteran out to an icy parking lot to smoke a cigarette," said Denny Whitson of Ottumwa. "My stand on it got me thrown out of the VFW commander spot."
Courtside Bar and Grill decided to go smoke free before the law took effect. So did Second Street Cafe. Recovery Room, a bar and grill, opened with the idea of being smoke free. That's fine, said Whitson. Even as a smoker, he'd visit a smoke-free business. A business owner should have a right to decide what their policies are. They don't need the government making decisions for them, he said.
Tim Schwartz, co-owner of the Hotel Ottumwa, had the rare chance to simultaneously make both decisions before the law was enforced. He and his business partners decided they would prohibit smoking in the hotel restaurant. In the bar down the hall, smoking continued.
"In my case, we needed to have the law to take smoking out of the Tom Tom Tap (bar)," Schwartz said.
When the owner of Courtside prohibited smoking at his bar, Schwartz said he actually saw Tom Tom numbers go up as new patrons told him they wanted to have a smoke with their drink.