Iowa: Five years smoke-free


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Ben Mummey has witnessed a lot of changes to downtown Iowa City since beginning his bartending career in 1997.

He remembers the once-ubiquitous hazy environments in area taverns, especially on the night before the Iowa Smokefree Air Act went into effect, five years ago today.

“Everybody sat in here smoking,” he said about June 30, 2008, working at the Deadwood Tavern, 6 S. Dubuque St. “I bet everybody in here that night smoked a pack. I mean, it was so thick in here.”

The next day, smoking was banned in almost all of Iowa’s public places and enclosed areas in places of employment, as well as some outdoor areas.

In August 2008, the Iowa City City Council added several such outdoor areas, including parts of the Pedestrian Mall, to those deemed smoke-free.

City Councilor Connie Champion, a non-smoker now, smoked in 2008. And she said she supported the law even then.

“I think the only problem that it’s created is, [because] we can’t forbid smoking on public sidewalks … the no-smoking law … has created a lot of litter on our public sidewalks,” she said.

According to a June report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national smoking rate among adults has been on the decline since 1997.  

The rate in Johnson County is even lower.

With a 95 percent confidence interval, the CDC report indicates that 18 percent of adults smoked in 2012, down from 18.9 percent in 2011.

In 1997, 24.7 percent of American adults were smokers.  The number went down substantially each year until 2004, when it hit 20.9 percent, the report said. It hovered around the 20 percent threshold for a six-year period, only dropping below it once in 2007, when 19.7 percent of adults were smokers.

Then, in 2010, the figure dropped to 19.4 percent and it has been dropping ever since. The CDC survey excludes the 2 percent of respondents with unknown smoking habits.

Locally, only 14 percent of Johnson County adults were smokers in 2012, Beardsley said. That’s down from 2009, when the county smoking rate was 17 percent, he said.

Beardsley said that Johnson County likely has a lower-than-national smoking rate because its residents are better educated and have higher incomes, which together, can be correlated.

The most striking effect of the law is the reduced number of heart attacks over the last five years, Beardsley said.

“It’s probably one of the greatest public health interventions in Iowa’s history,” he said.

The law, he said, unfortunately does not protect one particular group of workers — those employed at casinos.

“I think it’s been good,” said Sheila Davisson, the owner of Revival, 117 E. College St. “It’s cleaner, and it’s more family-friendly, which is important for downtown.”

Store employee Abbey Sandberd agreed, adding that the smell has improved and there are fewer cigarette butts in the store’s entryway.

As with the rest of Iowa’s bars, smoking is not allowed in Deadwood, where Mummey has been a manager for the last six or seven years.

Aside from fewer patrons playing pool, he said, business has been basically unchanged since the law took effect.

Today, he said, the bar’s outdoor patio has become particularly popular for smokers.

On one of the patio’s mesh chairs, UI alumnus Zak Lee said, between drags on his Camel Light, that the 2008 law had not changed his smoking habits.

“The only thing that influences my smoking is me,” he said.

Sitting next to his girlfriend, who was also smoking, Lee said he would someday quit.

“When I’m going to have my first kid,” he said. “That’s the end point.”

Laura Giles and Aaron Murphy, both nonsmokers, agreed that they would be more likely to take their son, Maxwell, to a restaurant where smoking was not allowed.

Murphy said that the no-smoking law cleaned everything up, and not just the air.

“I feel like places down here, especially bars, are more family-oriented now that there isn’t smoking in them,” Giles said.

While some smokers might not like the law, they have accepted it, Mummey said.

“It’s a little nicer to go home and not just reek of an ashtray,” he said.

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