City Council debates smoking laws

Doug Stevens

The city of Ames could be one step closer to a comprehensive smoking ban in all restaurants after Tuesday night’s city council meeting. After hearing mostly proponents of the ban for an hour and a half, several members of the council were ready to proceed with the drafting of an ordinance for a ban. However, worries about open dialogue and implementation prompted the council to draft an ordinance only with additional input. City Attorney John Klaus will draft an ordinance, but the city, in conjunction with the Center for Creative Justice, will facilitate a dialogue between people on both sides of the issue. A report with the drafted ordinance and the forum’s findings will be issued to the council at its Oct. 10 meeting. The council will decide then how to proceed on the smoking ban. Several representatives from area health organizations took their allotted two minutes at the podium to show support of the smoking ban. “I don’t know if you realize the significance of the entire health-care community agreeing on anything,” said Pat Fawcett, chairperson of the Mid-Iowa Community Health Committee. Health organizations represented were the Mid-Iowa Community Health Committee, the Ames chapter of the American Cancer Society, Youth and Shelter Services, the “Few Do” youth anti-smoking campaign, the Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Division of the Iowa Department of Public Health and McFarland Clinic. “I think that the evidence is overwhelming that passive smoking harms community health,” said Dr. Mike Kitchell of McFarland Clinic. Another focus of the proponents of the new ordinances was youth and the effects that a smoking ban would have on them. Ames High School and Ames Middle School students attended the meeting wearing smoking-ban stickers and carrying balloons that bore the message “Clear the Air.” “We feel strongly that this is not only a health issue but a youth issue,” said Jerry Budd of Youth and Shelter Services. “We must be an example for our youth.” Among the people opposing the ban were two Ames restaurant owners, a few individual smokers and a representative of the Ames Chamber of Commerce. “I’ve been a business owner in this community for 12 years,” said Rick Carmer, owner of Okoboji Bar and Grill. “No one in this room has ever come in and approached me about the problem of drifting smoke in my restaurant.” One of the issues that came from those opposed to the ban was the fact that no formal dialogue has taken place between Ames business owners and the proponents of the ban. “We have found that many restaurants in Ames already have no-smoking policies,” said David Moss of the Ames Chamber of Commerce. “We believe that other restaurants may be voluntarily convinced to institute a policy similar to the proposed ban if a dialogue could be developed.” Council member Herman Quirmbach led a vocal group of council members who were in favor of the ban. “So it is the chamber’s position that protecting the public health should be optional,” Quirmbach said in response to Moss. When the discussion ended, the council members had their turns to speak on the matter. “I urge all of you up here to support this motion in the name of public health,” said council member Judie Hoffman. “I have never seen in my time on city council such an overwhelming number of people come together on an issue.”