A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week predicts that every state will have smoking bans by 2020.
We’ve made great progress to ensure the public aren’t exposed to the effects of secondhand smoke. Already 26 states have comprehensive indoor smoking bans – meaning that smoking is banned in private-sector worksites, restaurants, and bars. Ten other states have bans in one of these venues and other states have laws that require smoking areas with separate ventilation. But the Surgeon General tells us the only way to protect nonsmokers from second hand smoke is to prohibit smoking in all indoor areas, that separating smokers, cleaning the air, and ventilation efforts aren’t enough.
Half of American are covered by comprehensive bans. Unfortunately no southern state has adopted state-wide comprehensive bans – including Indiana, Kentucky, Mississppi, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming. (Keeping in mind that cities in these states may have comprehensive bans, but they do not apply statewide). Texas may be one of the first southern states to finally implement a statewide ban if Senate Bill 355 passes through the legislature this session (which will end on May 31).
These laws are important for the public – reducing secondhand smoke, encouraging smokers to quit, changing social norms around smoking, and reducing the serious health consequences of smoking. We are well aware that smoking kills.
Despite our progress, about 88 million nonsmokers are still exposed to secondhand smoke, which causes dangerous effects. According to the American Cancer Society:
- An estimated 46,000 deaths from heart disease in non-smokers who live with smokers
- Secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in children and in adults who do not smoke.
- Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- 50,000 to 300,000 lung infections (such as pneumonia and bronchitis) in children younger than 18 months of age, which result in 7,500 to 15,000 hospitalizations annually
- Increases in the number and severity of asthma attacks in about 200,000 to 1 million children who have asthma
- More than 750,000 middle ear infections in children
- About 3,400 lung cancer deaths in non-smoking adults
- Other breathing problems in non-smokers, including coughing, mucus, chest discomfort, and reduced lung function
- Pregnant women exposed to secondhand smoke are also at increased risk of having low birth- weight babies.
Taxes meant to provide a disincentive to smoking don’t work as well as they should (because the demand for cigarettes is inelastic – in other words, for the most part people who smoke will smoke regardless of the price). West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources found that the average smoker in that state consuming one and a half packs a day, spent about $31,000 on cigarettes from 1980 to 2009. In 2009 they spent $2,121, which could rise to $8,100 by 2039. This personal cost pales in comparison to the cost to the public – $96.7 billion is spent on public and private health care combined and each American household spends $630 a year in federal and state taxes due to smoking.
We need to focus on helping smokers quit in order to completely address the effects of smoking on everyone. Lower economic status and people of lower education use tobacco at higher rates. And those with mental health issues smoke 44% of all cigarettes in the US and are 2-3 more times as like to smoke. Helping these people quit may help. (Here’s a Guide to Quitting Smoking)
Once we’ve achieved a nationwide smoke out, we could set our sites to other areas – casinos, apartments, and smoking with children in the car. Sure this takes away some of our freedoms, but these laws are as important to saving lives as seat-belt laws. If you want to keep smoking – go to France. (see this list of international smoking bans)
For ourselves and for our children – we cannot allow secondhand smoke exposure.
On a personal note – these bans need to be rigorously enforced. As a staffer in a legislative office, I was exposed to secondhand smoke on a daily basis substantially affecting my health. Yet, there was no enforcement, no one stopped it. I guess because he is in a position of power, no one thinks he has to play by the rules.