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Clean Indoor Air Act In Kansas Turns 5

Khan Hmong, flickr Creative Commons

The Clean Indoor Air Act went into effect in Kansas five years ago today. The law prohibits smoking in most public places, including workplaces, public buildings, bars and restaurants.

Prior to 2002, smoking policies were left up to the owners and managers of individual facilities. But that year, Salina City Commissioners began debating an ordinance to ban smoking in restaurants, with an exception for late-night hours.

“It generated more response from the community than any other issue that I ever had to deal with while I was on the commission—and I was on the commission for six years," says former Salina City Commissioner Debbie Divine.

She says many restaurant owners were worried that they’d lose customers who smoked. Tom Dick has operated Tom’s Appletree Restaurant for 30 years and says he lost customers because of the ban.

“We had a lot of customers from Lindsborg and McPherson. We still do. We had some of them that flat told me, ‘We won’t be eating in Salina anymore, because of the smoking ban.’ And they didn’t. They stopped coming in," he says.

But Dick says, overall, his business didn’t suffer. In fact, he didn’t see any difference at all. Soon, other cities followed suit with smoking bans of their own: Lyons, Lawrence and Hutchinson had smoking bans within two years after enforcement started in Salina. By the end of 2009, more than three dozen Kansas cities, towns, and counties had enacted smoking bans.

Reagan Cussimanio, who represents the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network in Kansas, credits that grassroots movement for the statewide law.

“The state itself saw that communities, and residents in those communities, wanted clean indoor air," Cussimanio says.

The Kansas Clean Indoor Air Act went into effect July 1, 2010. Cussimanio’s organization commissioned a survey of 500 likely Kansas voters in December 2013 and found that 86 percent approved the smoke-free law, while only 12 percent disapproved, she says.

While the public may like restrictions on smoking in public places, the Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association has long argued against government enacting such policies. They argued before the Salina City Commission in 2002 that such decisions should be left up to the owners of the affected businesses. When contacted for this story, the association’s president and CEO, Adam Mills, responded by email that he was “not interested in visiting about this”.

Larry Conover has a different view of government regulation. His family has operated the Town & Country Restaurant in Wichita since 1957.

“I was a little nervous, because we had such a strong group of people that smoked here," Conover says. "The whole building was smoking. We didn’t even have a non-smoking section.”

On the other hand, Conover knew he was losing business from families who didn’t want to breathe second-hand smoke. The City of Wichita took the decision out of his hands by passing smoking restrictions in 2008.

"(It's) been hard for me to make the decision on my own to just go non-smoking, because I had all these other customers I was already loyal to. But once the city helped us, it was city-wide, so it was fair, and nobody could get mad at anybody," Conover says. "Most of ‘em, at some point, said ‘I’m going to go somewhere else,’ but there was nowhere else to go. So, it actually helped, I think.”

But the Clean Indoor Air Act, at its core, isn’t really about business. It’s about making Kansans healthier. Statistics from KDHE show decreases since 2009 in the hospital discharge rates in Kansas for lung diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Discharge rates for heart attacks also declined, but not as much. Those improvements can’t be directly linked to the smoking ban, however, because other possible causes can’t be ruled out.

“We can’t prove that we can attribute them to the Clean Indoor Air Act, but all of the studies published that have looked at health effects would suggest that the ban contributed to those reductions," says Kimber Richter, a tobacco treatment researcher at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Richter thinks the next step is to protect people from second-hand smoke even in outdoor venues, like college campuses and outdoor youth sports facilities. She says the goal is to both protect health, and to prevent children from becoming smokers.

Bryan Thompson is a reporter with the Heartland Health Monitor.