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Iowa smoking ban not as dire as predicted: Sales up at restaurants, taverns

Publication Date: 2012-06-30
  • Author:Steve Gravelle
  • Publication:Cedar Rapids (IA) Gazette

On a quiet, weekday late afternoon, it’s the same as it ever was at the Green Gable Inn. Almost.

Four years ago, the regulars at this tavern, 1227 J Ave. NE, would have been sitting in a haze of cigarette smoke, but the air here and in bars and restaurants across Iowa was cleared July 1, 2008, when the state’s smoking ban took effect.

“I like it,” said Alicia Henley, 37, from behind the Green Gable’s bar. “I used to smoke, and I’m glad it changed.”

“I hate it,” said smoker Clay Graham, 58. He said he goes out less often now that he can’t smoke in bars.

Fred Madison, 42, said he doesn’t mind stepping out to the bar’s parking lot, where the owners have provided seating and sand-filled buckets for butts, for a quick smoke.

Well, most of the time.

“The worst part is having to go outside when it’s real hot or cold,” said Madison.

“I still have some complaints, but it hasn’t changed the business substantially,” said Green Gable co-owner Rod Hunt. “I thought we’d have a bigger effect than it did.”

The law’s critics may still argue it infringes on their freedom — an argument that hasn’t held up in court — but their 2008 warnings of businesses closing and economic loss weren’t realized.

Annual sales at restaurants and taverns increased nearly $80 million since the law took effect, to more than $3.4 billion last year, according to statistics from the Iowa Department of Revenue.

The state has issued hundreds of new liquor licenses over the past four years, said Tonya Dusold, spokeswoman for the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division.

“We have not seen licensees go down,” Dusold said.

Whether it was cause or effect, Nick Jelinek has seen a change in attitude with the ban.

“I can’t imagine someone firing one up now (indoors),” said Jelinek, co-owner of Parlor City Pub & Eatery, 1125 Third St. SE. “It would be a total shock.”...