116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / Johnson County officials pushing for stricter smoking laws
IOWA CITY - Jenn Basile says smoking while standing in the street would be a real drag.
'I don't really enjoy standing on the yellow line,” she says, taking a puff outside Micky's Irish Pub, 11 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City.
She has stepped outside the front door at Micky's on this summer night in order to adhere to Iowa's Smoke-free Air Act, passed in 2008, that prohibits smoking in almost all public places and enclosed areas within places of employment, as well as some outdoor areas.
But should the Johnson County Board of Supervisors get its wish, it may soon be even more difficult for folks like Basile to find a suitable place to smoke.
Supervisors are looking to make some changes to Johnson County's smoking laws. First, they want to include an e-cigarette ban in all public places, much like regular tobacco cigarettes. Second, they want to add a requirement that smokers of any kind - both regular cigarette and e-cigarette users - get their nicotine fix at least 25 feet from public buildings.
In some cases, this could create a unique situation for smokers. Outside the Airliner on Clinton Street in downtown Iowa City, for example, walking 25 feet from the front door puts a person in the street where cars parallel park. The same is true for many other businesses.
Add in the fact that smoking is prohibited on all University of Iowa property, and the list of suitable places to smoke becomes minuscule.
And that's exactly the point, said Doug Beardsley, director of public health in Johnson County.
'That's really the point of these ordinances, is the preservation of the clean air that we have and the protection of people who would be exposed,” he said.
uniform smoking laws
Similar smoking and e-cigarette bans already are in place in parts of Johnson County. Coralville and North Liberty have enacted the 25-foot rule and include e-cigarettes in the smoking ordinance. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors wants to make those rules countywide. At a recent meeting, supervisors requested Beardsley's department approach Iowa City officials and ask that they first amend their rules to match those in Coralville and North Liberty.
If Iowa City adopts the rules, Johnson County officials would then move to make the rules uniform across the entire county.
' ... This would be effective in all areas of the county but we just don't want to change anything that's already been done, create any conflicts there,” said Beardsley.
He doesn't have an exact timeline for proposing any ordinances, but said he'd like to see the new laws in place in the next couple of months. He also said he's unsure if smaller municipalities in Johnson County could opt out of any new ordinances.
Iowa City Council Member Kingsley Botchway II, who also serves as mayor pro tem, said he believes the council is receptive to adopting the new rules. He said because Iowa City was first in the county to pass the original ban, he doesn't 'see why we couldn't continue the trend.”
Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry said the board, and county officials in general, tend to be more progressive when it comes to issues like smoking and adding e-cigarettes and a 25-foot rule to the existing laws.
'We can probably push the envelope more so than other counties,” Carberry said.
Americans for Non-Smokers' Rights, a lobbying organization, keeps a list of e-cigarette bans across the county. Its most recent list, published July 1, shows that Iowa has only four city-level bans restricting e-cigarette use in 100 percent smoke-free venues.
The only Iowa ban not in Johnson County is in Ames.
Beardsley sees little difference between the harmful effects of cigarettes and e-cigarettes. He says it's like choosing between jumping from a second-story window or a 10th-story window.
'Every time you leave a building, do you want to walk out the ground floor with no risk or do you want to jump out the second story?” he asked.
E-cigarettes are an electronic delivery system for liquid containing nicotine, flavors and other chemicals. Users inhale the vapor given off when the liquid is heated. They've been called a 'clean cigarette” and marketing efforts have aimed to convince users they are simply inhaling and exhaling vapor.
But a 2015 Center for Disease Control information sheet, says inhaling vapor directly from an e-cigarette or secondhand exhaled vapor is potentially harmful to one's health. The report says the vapor can contain extra fine particles and heavy metals.
'Nobody should be forced to be exposed to that vapor just by virtue of being in a public space,” said Beardsley, adding the claims made in e-cigarette advertisements are 'patently false.”
'We've got clean indoor air now, at least in terms of tobacco in Iowa. Why do we want to add new chemicals which we know are harmful, regardless of concentration? Let's leave it at zero,” he said.
Carberry said it is the county's role to protect the health and welfare of its residents. He said the county is hoping to take a stand on the issue because it concerned about secondhand vapor.
'People like Iowa City for the quality of life,” Carberry said. 'What we're trying to do is maintain that quality of life.
'We're not a follower, we're a leader.”
‘people don't want to be around it'
Morris Drew, an Iowa City resident who smokes cigarettes, said he understands what Johnson County officials are trying to do and said he would adapt his habits to follow any new laws. Smoking at a transit stop near the corner of Washington and Clinton streets, he said he wouldn't necessarily mind walking farther away from a building or even across the street to smoke.
'People don't want to be around it,” Drew said. 'I don't think they should have to be either.”
Michael Landgrebu, who was also smoking outside Micky's this past week, agrees. He said he wouldn't mind walking across the street because he believes smokers have to be considerate of others.
As far as the proposed e-cigarette ban goes, Zach Howard, an employee at The Den, 123 E. Washington St. in Iowa City, said store officials don't think any new laws would impact the shop much because it already went through the initial restrictions put in place in 2008. The Den sells e-cigarettes.
Howard said store officials are fine with whatever is best for the city, specifically downtown.
Beardley said he thinks the general public is supportive of the moves being made. He said had officials not taken the initiative it wouldn't be long before the public asked for stricter smoking and e-cigarette laws on their own.
Back at Micky's, Jenn Basile says officials can pass all the laws they want, but it's not going to curb smoking or e-cigarette use in any way.
'It's not going to deter anyone from smoking,” she said. 'Anyone.”