Attorney General Tom Miller says there’s been a huge "societal change" in attitudes about smoking.
"For a long time, the tobacco industry dominated the culture of tobacco. The two big figures were the Malboro Man and the Virginia Slims woman. For men it was manly; it was outdoors; it was strong; it was the thing to do. For women it was the feminine, sophistocated thing to do. Well, gradually that changed somewhat into the 1990s and then the tobacco industry sort of regrouped and what they wanted the culture of tobacco to be was neutral," Miller says. "How many times did we hear ‘legal product; adult choice’?"
Despite the dramatic change in public attitudes about smoking — and a corresponding drop in smoking rates — Miller says he’s still a bit surprised Iowa legislators moved this year to ban smoking in bars and restaurants. "I think as we more and more win the cultural battle, the issue that’s left is cessation…70 percent of smokers want to quit," Miller says. "How do we help them quit?"
Over 40 percent of American adults smoked in the 1960s. Today, just under 20 percent of Iowa adults smoke. Miller says there’s been an "enormous" reduction in smoking rates among kids. "
According to the University of Michigan study which is the recognized study for daily consumption of cigarettes — for eighth graders, it’s down 71%; for 10th graders, it’s down 61%; for those that are seniors in high school, it’s down 50%," Miller says, "so an enormous reduction among the whole population cigarette smoking in our country and an even more dramatic one among kids."
This past Sunday was the 10th anniversary of the legal settlement tobacco companies struck with the states. Iowa, so far, has been paid over half a billion and stands to collect a total of two billion from cigarette makers over 25 years. Miller says that lawsuit helped reshape public attitudes about smoking. "Part of what happened was the villification of the industry as more and more facts were coming out," Miller says. "…The release of the documents out of the lawsuit also provided an avalanche of stories and more information about this industry and what they do."
Miller, though, admits he’s disappointed state legislatures — including Iowa’s — have used only a fraction of tobacco company payments to the states for programs that help smokers quit. Miller was among the attorneys general who negotiated that legal settlement and Miller argued judges should be involved in deciding how the money was spent. "I wasn’t able to do that. That was sort of a bridge too far," Miller laments. "…So what happened is that the legislature gets to decide how to spend the money each year."
According to the Tobacco-Free Kids group, Iowa ranks 21st among the states in terms of spending on tobacco prevention. While Iowa is spending about $11 million this year on programs to help smokers quit, or keep new smokers from taking up the habit, that’s about a third of what the Centers for Disease Control recommends spending in Iowa.