Secondhand smoke poses a risk to asthmatics

Smoking ban debate should include the affects to asthma sufferers.

More than 250,000 adult Minnesotans (around 7% of the state”s population) have asthma, a chronic inflammatory respiratory disease, according to the American Lung Association of Minnesota. Doctors do not know for certain what causes asthma, but they do know secondhand smoke triggers asthmatic episodes in many people. Even the smell of tobacco on clothing can trigger an asthma episode in some.

The Minneapolis and St. Paul city councils are considering ordinances to prohibit smoking in restaurants and bars. Council members considering these common-sense proposals should consider related facts about asthma.

A higher percentage of adults living in the Twin Cities report they have asthma than in greater Minnesota. Also, residents of the Twin Cities have the state’s highest rates of hospitalization and emergency department visits for asthma.

Asthma disproportionately affects families living in the Twin Cities’ lower income neighborhoods. Compounding the problem, these families are also more likely to be uninsured, and to seek charity care for asthma at taxpayer-supported facilities like Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis or Regions Hospital in St. Paul. As such, the heath-care benefits of the proposed bans extend past those related to lung cancer and heart disease.

A recent Minnesota Department of Health survey of 13,000 Minnesota school children linked exposure to secondhand smoke to nearly 40 percent of cases of diagnosed asthma or asthma-like symptoms in children.

Finally, no Twin Cities service industry worker with asthma should have to choose between getting a paycheck and breathing unsafe air. We cannot wait for the state to fix the problem. We need to act now, on the city level, to insure workers are protected.

Robert Moffitt is the Communications Manager for the American Lung Association of Minnesota. Please send comments to

[email protected]