Guest Columnist

Iowans still benefit from smoke-free air

A man and woman laugh in May 2008 while smoking cigarettes inside an Iowa City bar. Indoor smoking was banned in most public places across the state a few weeks after this photograph was taken. This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Iowa Smoke-Free Air Act becoming law. (Gazette Archives)
A man and woman laugh in May 2008 while smoking cigarettes inside an Iowa City bar. Indoor smoking was banned in most public places across the state a few weeks after this photograph was taken. This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Iowa Smoke-Free Air Act becoming law. (Gazette Archives)

We’re not accustomed to reading horror stories but, lo and behold, we opened the editorial page of The Gazette on July 6, 2018, only to read the following headline: “Smoking law aging poorly.”

What’s not to like about the Smoke-Free Air Act, passed by the Iowa Legislature in 2008? It banned smoking in most public places, including restaurants and businesses. This meant no clouds of smoke turning your ham sandwich into a smoked ham sandwich. No toxins to waft up your captive nostrils. No asthma attacks for servers forced breathe secondhand smoke for eight or more hours a day. It was a win-win situation — to the vast majority of us.

However, it seems columnist Adam Sullivan looked upon the ban as an invasion of personal rights, saying, “A decade later we see the true goal was to infringe on personal choice by making it ever more inconvenient to use tobacco products.”

No, sir, the true goal is to prevent making your smoke my lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, or dead infant. You have a right to sully your lungs, and trigger one of nine cancers. You do not have a right to sully mine.

Sullivan asserted there was “skepticism about the threat posed by secondhand smoke, and the effectiveness of bans like Iowa’s.” He cited the “latest research” in a 2013 study and article in the prestigious Journal of the National Cancer Institute, saying there was “no link” between lung cancer and passive (secondhand) smoking. He reported the journal found “among non-smokers no statistically significant increase in lung cancer.”

He must have overlooked the emphatic rebuke contained in a 2014 letter in the equally prestigious International Journal of Cancer. Five distinguished epidemiologists rebutted the JNCI article: “Given the vast volume of literature demonstrating the effects of passive smoking, the public health message regarding this topic should be that there is a clear link between passive smoking and lung cancer and there is no safe level of exposure.”

Speaking of newer information, the president and CEO of the American Lung Association, Harold P. Wimmer, weighed in on this in March. He blogged about a 2008 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report “which forever ended the debate over whether secondhand smoke was harmful or not with this succinct statement: ‘There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.’”

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Wimmer reminded the public that more than 41,000 Americans die every year from secondhand smoke, and that it also is a known cause of death for the most vulnerable of our vulnerable population: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in babies.

In direct contradiction to Sullivan’s citing of the American Journal of Medicine and its belief there is no significant link between heart attacks and secondhand smoke, the American Heart Association unabashedly says global studies prove heart attacks and hospitalizations decline after the introduction of smoke-free air laws. The AHA “advocates for smoke-free air laws that are comprehensive and apply to all workplaces and public environments.”

The American Cancer Society describes two types of secondhand smoke, mainstream and sidestream. Mainstream is smoke exhaled by a smoker. Sidestream is more toxic since it comes from a lit cigarette, pipe or cigar, and is packed with higher concentrations of carcinogens. It also has smaller particles than mainstream smoke that “make their way into the lungs and the body’s cells more easily,” says the ACS. Conclusion: “There’s no safe level of exposure for secondhand smoke.”

In a July 17 email a representative from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told us, “According to the 2014 Surgeon General’s report, ‘since 1964, more than 20 million Americans have died because of smoking. Of the 20 million who died, 2.5 million were nonsmokers who died because of secondhand smoke.’ In general, the report concluded that ‘exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke has been causally linked to cancer, respiratory, and cardiovascular disease, and to adverse effects on the health of infants and children.’”

With 2,500,000 American deaths in the span of 54 years, just because of secondhand smoke, how can we morally object to a Smoke-free Air Act? To smoke firsthand is a voluntary choice. For the public to be subject to secondhand smoke is involuntary and, in our view, immoral.

In 2008, a smoking lobby fear tactic warned a ban would crash some restaurants and bars. The truth? It never happened.

“As a bar and restaurant owner, I was skeptical at first,” said Matt Blake, owner of Dublin City Pub in Cedar Rapids. “But the reaction from customers and servers was astonishing. They loved a smoke-free environment. My business never missed a bat. And now, I would never go back to the way things were.”

One of his servers confirms that. Gerri Smith, told us: “I love smoke-free restaurants — and I’m a smoker. It means I can do my job and not be tempted. I also feel better, because I breathe in fewer toxins. Since Iowa restaurants and bars have gone smoke free, I enjoy my job more and actually smoke less.”

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And from the longtime Hamburg Inn in Iowa City, also a popular hangout with University of Iowa students, general manager Seth Dudley, reports: “We voluntarily went smoke free in 1994 because it made sense. We were a family restaurant and wanted it to be a healthy place to eat. Our business never suffered. If anything, we gained even more customers. It was one restaurant in Iowa City where you didn’t have to worry about tobacco smoke.”

And customers? Roger Beau, of Vinton, a retiree who eats out often with his wife, Barb, says, “I always disliked smoking in restaurants. It interferes with the taste of food and makes for an unpleasant atmosphere. It’s very pleasant now to go to a restaurant and enjoy a meal without the presence of smoke.”

Janis Johnson, of Marion, a hair stylist and manicurist, is of the same mind: “I support the ban completely. Being a smoker is a choice a person makes and they can’t expect everyone around them, including the elderly and children, to breathe in their harmful smoke. I love smoke-free restaurants.”

No major health organization or publication of any repute denies the harm of secondhand smoke. It is a solid consensus, and an approbation of the wisdom of Smoke-free Air Acts. Kudos to the governments and private individuals who are protecting public health. Personal choice still is open to the smoker — his/her rights are merely restricted to his/her body. The public could well employ the old saw, “Don’t tread on me.”

Twenty-two states have yet to recognize the necessity of making all indoor air clean. Iowa has a proud 10-year history of doing so, with the exception of casinos and private clubs.

With a little face-lift — one that would include said casinos and private clubs — we think Iowa’s Smoke-free Air Act has aged quite nicely. And that’s no horror story.

• Amy Johnson and Shirley Ruedy are former journalists and longtime volunteers for the American Cancer Society. Johnson is a former KGAN-TV anchorwoman and Ruedy wrote The Gazette’s “Cancer Update” column from 1991 to 2007. Comments: shirleyr7@msn.com

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