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May 7, 2003

Miller: Change Iowa Law to Protect Iowans' Health

DES MOINES.   Attorney General Tom Miller said that today's decision by the Iowa Supreme Court overturning the secondhand smoke ordinance in Ames makes it imperative that the legislature change Iowa's law so that in the future communities could pass ordinances that protect Iowans' right to breathe clean air. "Failure to change the law would be a serious blow to the good health of Iowans," Miller said. Miller noted that a comparable clean air ordinance in Iowa City would also be affected.

"Secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in this country, killing approximately 53,000 nonsmokers each year," Miller said. "Approximately 500 Iowans die each year from heart or lung disease caused by secondhand smoke -- more than ten times the Iowa homicide rate. Secondhand smoke kills more Americans every year than drug abuse, and it causes the same number of deaths per year as those that died in the entire Vietnam War."

Miller explained that today's Iowa Supreme Court ruling was the result of a challenge from several Ames, Iowa, restaurant owners objecting to Ames' clean indoor air ordinance. The Ames ordinance was upheld by the Story County District Court which found that Iowa law did not prevent communities from passing local clean indoor air ordinances. That decision was appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court which overturned the District Court decision today.

Miller said that legislators who believe in the principle of local control should support a change in the law. "The District Court had ruled that Iowa law did not prevent communities from passing local clean indoor air ordinances but this ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court disagrees. Iowa is now one of only 16 states whose laws preempt local secondhand smoke ordinances," Miller said.

The Attorney General noted that there is tremendous momentum toward protecting the majority of Americans who do not smoke from the health hazard of secondhand smoke. California, New York and Delaware have passed significant statewide clean indoor air laws. Passage of such a law also is expected in Connecticut. Hundreds of communities also have acted. In 1985 only 199 communities had ordinances with clean indoor air restrictions but today 1,605 have such ordinances.

New York City and Boston both have recently adopted bans on smoking in nearly all bars and restaurants. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the action will save the lives of 1,000 persons per year in his city and that it is "an idea whose time has come." Other large cities considering bans include Dallas, Denver, Chicago, Bloomington, Indianapolis, Austin and even Lexington, Kentucky. Smaller communities also are acting. In the Midwest, Wisconsin has approximately eight communities with clean indoor air ordinances, Minnesota currently has four and Iowa two. Miller cited a survey conducted by the Gallup organization showing that 84% of Iowans, and 64% of Iowa smokers, agreed that people should be protected from secondhand smoke.

The National Cancer Institute has said there is no "safe" level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Even occasional exposure to the thousands of chemicals and numerous cancer-causing agents found in secondhand smoke can significantly raise the risk of lung cancer and heart disease. Exposure to secondhand smoke for less than an hour can result in changes in blood chemistry even for a healthy person. The University of California School of Public Health concluded that being in a smoky bar for 2 hours had the same effect as smoking 4 cigarettes.

Miller said, "It is sometimes said that ordinances impose on smokers' right to smoke, but in fact what they do is protect nonsmokers' right to breathe clean air. It is also sometimes threatened that business will suffer if smoking is banned from certain businesses, but there is no scientific study to support that claim -- and there are many that show no effect on business. Both these issues are scare tactics by the tobacco industry and its surrogates. In fact," Miller said, "bans on smoking in places like restaurants result in benefits to business in the form of improved worker health, reduced cleaning and maintenance costs, and lower insurance premiums."

Miller said that even without the ability of local cities and counties to pass ordinances protecting citizens from secondhand smoke, there are still many opportunities for advocates of clean indoor air. He cited work being done in schools and businesses all over the state as examples that clean indoor air work will continue. But, he said, "It is important for the Iowa legislature to act to allow communities to protect their citizens from heart disease and cancer caused by secondhand smoke."

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