A coalition of groups is celebrating the 15th anniversary of the state law that banned smoking in most public places and urging lawmakers to do more.

Threase Harms of the Iowa Tobacco Prevention Alliance says the Iowa Smokefree Act has helped thousands of Iowans quit smoking.

“More than one in five Iowans smoked cigarettes 15 years ago,” Harms says. “Today, the rate is just over 14%. As a result, we’ve seen a 33% decline in Iowa’s smoking rate.”

Representatives from the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association were at the Iowa Capitol yesterday. The coalition is calling on lawmakers to increase the state tax on tobacco products and close a loophole that allows smoking on the gaming floors at the state’s casinos. The group also wants e-cigarette use banned in the same places where it’s not legal to smoke a cigarette or a cigar.

Harms said it’s “surreal” to remember what public places were like before the law.

“I grew up in a home with both of my parents smoking. Both of my parents died of tobacco-related illnesses. When we would go out to a restaurant…the smoke permeated ever inch of every establishment. I remember being in rooms with smoke so thick my eyes would sting, with tears running down my face,” Harm said. “I’m so grateful that my children don’t have to endure this today.”

In the 1980s, former Governor Terry Branstad declared his office space and public areas in the Iowa Capitol as smoke-free zones. He also ordered the removal of a cigarette vending machine on the Capitol’s publically-accessible ground floor. Branstad credits his wife, Chris, for taking the ash trays out of their home in Lake Mills as well as the governor’s mansion in Des Moines.

“At the first reception we held for legislators one particular prominent Republican legislator lit up a cigarette. My wife charged across the room and told him in no uncertain terms to put it out,” Branstad said, “and he did.”

Former Governor Chet Culver signed the Iowa Smokefree Air Act in 2008 after it narrowly passed the Iowa Legislature.

Radio Iowa