DES MOINES — On the 10-year anniversary of Iowa’s public smoking ban, fewer Iowans are smoking, smoking-related health care spending is down and businesses appear to have remained unscathed.
The Iowa Smoke-Free Air Act took effect July 1, 2008. The law banned smoking in most public indoor spaces, including businesses such as bars and restaurants. Casinos remain exempt.
Iowa is one of 27 states with smoking bans for workplaces, restaurants and bars, according to federal data. Missouri is the only state among Iowa’s geographical neighbors that does not have a similar ban.
Iowa’s ban was implemented a year after the state raised the tax on cigarettes by $1 per pack.
While experts caution the public smoking ban is not the only factor driving such numbers — the cigarette tax and federal law changes also have an effect — the share of Iowans who say they smoke dropped from 20.3 percent in 2011 to 16.7 percent in 2018, and the rate of youth smoking fell from 19 percent in 2008 to 7 percent in 2016, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
“It’s hard to say the Smoke-Free Act has done this or that or the other thing,” said Garin Buttermore, with the Department of Public Health. “(But) that’s a pretty good drop.”
Nearly one-third of Iowa smokers said the ban caused them to reduce their smoking or quit, according to a 2012 survey issued by the department.
“A third is pretty good for changing an addiction to nicotine,” Buttermore said.
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The smoke-free law and cigarette tax hikes led to fewer tobacco-related hospital admissions and savings of more than $200 million in the first five years under the ban, a University of Iowa researcher found around the ban’s five-year anniversary.
“Those two together are probably the two greatest public health measures that have ever been enacted in the state of Iowa, as measured in terms of improvements in health, reduction in disease and savings in health care dollars,” Christopher Squier, a professor in the University of Iowa’s Department of Pathology, Radiology and Medicine, said in 2013. “They have an enormous impact, and it happened quickly.”
No ‘adverse impact’
Iowa’s smoking ban was not approved without a legislative challenge, and some detractors remain. Many who oppose the law call it government overreach and say it should be up to individual businesses, not the state, to determine whether to allow smokers. Concerns also were raised that the ban would harm some businesses, especially bars.
But the state department that handles licensing for any establishments that sell alcohol has said the smoking ban does not appear to have made any measurable impact on the number of those businesses.
“The number of licensees has not decreased, and we have had continued growth on premise licenses across the state,” said Stephen Larson, administrator of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division. “We have no information that the law has had any adverse impact.”
The number of complaints related to the smoking ban has dropped dramatically since the law’s early days, according to data collected by the state health department.
In the first year under the ban, 2,860 complaints were filed to the state; there have been just 128 since last July, according to the state’s figures.
Health care advocacy groups celebrated the ban’s 10-year anniversary last week. The American Lung Association said in addition to the lower rates of smoking in Iowa, the state now has more than 1,100 smoke-free rental properties, more than 700 businesses with tobacco- and nicotine-free policies, and more than 300 smoke-free parks.
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“While many of us remember smoking in restaurants, in the workplace and even on airplanes, many children and teens have never and will never experience secondhand smoke exposure in these venues,” Micki Sandquist, executive director of the Lung Association in Iowa, said in a news release. “It’s a significant accomplishment to be 10 years smoke-free here in Iowa. Several states don’t have smoke-free laws, so many of their workers and citizens continue to be exposed to dangerous secondhand smoke every day.
“We have made tremendous progress, but have much more to accomplish.”
Some health care groups have called for the state to bolster the smoke-free ban.
During public hearings ahead of the most recent state budget year, Stacy Frelund of the American Heart Association called for another $1.50 in state tax on cigarettes, which the representative said was supported by 19 anti-tobacco groups. Frelund said the added tax would prevent 19,000 young people from smoking, help 22,000 adults quit, generate more than $100 million in state revenue and help address the $1.2 billion the state spends each year on smoking-related health care issues.
For now, state leaders remain confident in the current smoking ban and tax levels. No plans to expand the ban or increase the cigarette tax have gained any traction in the Legislature in recent years.
“The Smoke-Free Air Act was the catalyst for many smoke-free initiatives,” said Jerilyn Oshel, director of the state public health department’s Division of Tobacco Use Prevention and Control. “Iowans are now protected from secondhand smoke not only in the workplace, but in hundreds of parks and outdoor entertainment areas.”
l Comments: (515) 422-9061; firstname.lastname@example.org
Rod Boshart of The Gazette contributed to this report.
l For more information about Iowa’s Smoke-Free Air Act, including a list of smoke-free homes, visit smokefreeair.iowa.gov.
l For help quitting tobacco, call Quitline Iowa at 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) or visit quitlineiowa.org.