When the urge struck, George Davis walked out of a Delaware City bar, pulled a Newport out of the pack, lit it and inhaled deeply.
Davis has been smoking for 20 of his 36 years and nothing, not even the Clean Indoor Air Act — Gov. Ruth Ann Minner’s signature law, passed in 2002 — made him want to quit.
It just annoyed the Delaware City resident.
“I think you should be able to smoke wherever you want,” said Davis, as he stood outside the old DC Pub, now known as the Delaware City Brew House and Grill. “It’s going to get to the point where you have to buy a ticket to Mars to get to smoke a cigarette.”
The Clean Indoor Air Act made Delaware the first state to adopt a comprehensive statewide smoking ban, which outlawed smoking within most establishments. Since then smoking has been prohibited on beaches, boardwalks and, soon, some public parks.
Health officials from across the nation view the act as not only groundbreaking but habit-breaking. Since 2002, 25 other states and dozens of cities have enacted laws prohibiting smoking in indoor areas of worksites, restaurants and bars.
A ban on smoking in parks, beaches, public plazas and boardwalks in New York City took effect Monday.
In 2001, before the local ban, 25 percent of adults smoked regularly. By 2008, less than 18 percent routinely smoked, according to the most recently available statistics from the annual Behavioral Risk Factor Survey.
Smoking rates have gone down, as has opposition to the ban. Even some of the law’s most vocal opponents — restaurant and bar owners — don’t want to see the law repealed.
“I didn’t like it at all when it started,” said Mark Diamond, owner of Blue Parrot Bar & Grille on Union Street in Wilmington. “But now I think it’s a good law.”
Secondhand smoke, which contains more than 700 chemicals, including 70 carcinogens, is estimated to cause 46,000 deaths from heart disease and an additional 3,400 deaths from lung cancer each year, according to the CDC.
But health reasons aside, numerous studies have found that people are more likely to try to quit smoking if it’s banned indoors.
And while standing out in the cold or rain may not propel smokers to quit, it is often the last straw.
Lauren Faline smokes, yet she said she welcomed the Clean Indoor Air Act. The 30-year-old Wilmington resident said the law may eventually help her quit her half-pack-a-day habit.
“If it’s raining or if it’s cold or if it’s too hot out, I don’t want to get up and go outside to smoke, so I don’t end up smoking as much,” said Faline, a bartender at Scrimmages in Brandywine Hundred. “I guess I’m a lazy smoker because if there’s an ashtray on the bar I’ll smoke but if I have to go outside I’ll smoke less frequently.”
At first, the law spurred restaurant and bar owners to get creative, said Carrie Leishman, CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association.
Many went through the bureaucratic obstacles to become private clubs to exempt themselves from the law. Diamond, a nonsmoker, built a patio at the Blue Parrot for smokers. Scrimmages — which Diamond previously owned — saw a 40 percent drop in business.
But the ban isn’t a problem anymore.
“I don’t hear complaints from smokers except when it’s below freezing,” Diamond said. “I think smokers have adapted to it.”
That doesn’t mean all opposition has disappeared.
“Now, of course, we’re so accustomed to the new law,” said Donna Kellagher, 58, of Christiana, who has smoked since she was 13. “But I’d rather be nice and snug and warm.”
Smokers will soon have to adapt again.
Pointing to research that shows that secondhand smoke does not dissipate outdoors quickly enough to be safe, smoke-free zones have been established outside.
Bethany Beach adopted a smoking ban on its boardwalk and much of its beach in 2008. This year, eight towns — Delaware City, Bethany Beach, Dover, Georgetown, Milton, New Castle, Seaford and Smyrna — are getting grants of between $2,095 and $10,000 to establish smoke-free zones in certain areas, such as parks. The grants are distributed by the American Lung Association of Delaware.
People who smoke in open defiance at Battery Park in Delaware City, which became a smoke-free zone earlier this month, could be charged with disorderly conduct and receive a $25 fine. That was news to Calvin Parson, who smoked while he fished last week.
“I accept that nonsmokers have rights to have clean air inside a restaurant,” he said. “But when you go outside, that’s God’s green earth. If I want to go outside to smoke, I should be within my rights.”
By Hiran Ratnayake