Pass the Freedom to Breathe Act

FACTOID: Smoking ban would reduce heart attacks, save money

My bill to expand the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act received a timely boost by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent recommendation that people who wish to avoid heart attacks stay away from indoor secondhand tobacco smoke. Recent news reports have highlighted findings that a secondhand smoking ban caused a 40% reduction in heart attacks. As a result, the CDC has advised medical doctors to tell patients with heart disease to stay out of indoor spaces that allow smoking.

The Freedom to Breathe Act would make Minnesota one of a growing number of states and countries that ban smoking in restaurants, bars and virtually every public building, place of employment and public meeting.

This bill goes well beyond politics – having the support of an overwhelming majority of Minnesotans, as well as a broad coalition that includes public health experts, physicians groups, former Minnesota governors Al Quie, Arne Carlson and Wendell Anderson, former U.S. Senator and current chair of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s health care task force Dave Durenberger, and a bipartisan group of legislators in the State House and Senate. Here’s one reason they all support the smoking ban: The indoor smoking ban would help reduce health care costs for businesses, health care insurers and the state’s taxpayers.

Tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke takes a dramatic toll on the health and well-being of Minnesotans and their economy. The Minnesota Department of Health projects that tobacco use imposes $2.6 billion in health and economic costs in the state.

Tobacco use kills approximately 5,600 Minnesotans each year. 1,800 of those deaths occur as a result of secondhand smoke. A recent study in New Zealand found a 15 percent higher death rate for nonsmokers who live in a smoker’s household than in a smoke-free household. This is no surprise: tobacco smoke is Class A carcinogen.

Pawlenty and Durenberger’s Citizens Forum on Health Care Costs recommended expanding the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act. Now you know why.

Public opinion is strongly behind the passage of smoke-free laws. A 2002 statewide poll found that 79 percent of Minnesotans could support laws that ban smoking indoors. Across Minnesota, individuals believe that workers in restaurants should have smoke-free workplaces, rather than smoking the equivalent of half a pack of cigarettes a day; that restaurants should be totally smoke free; and that they are more likely to go -and go more often – to a smoke free restaurant. Thus, smoke-free laws will not adversely impact, and may help, local businesses.

A number of groups have expressed concerns about the negative economic impact of a smoke-free law, particularly on restaurant and bar businesses. However, numerous studies conducted in communities with smoke-free laws have consistently found the opposite. The most recent study, which was published by the CDC in February 2004, found that a smoke-free ordinance enacted in El Paso, Texas, in January 2002 has not affected bar and restaurant revenues. In New York, bar and restaurant revenues were up 9% in the first 10 months of the smoking ban.

A statewide ban levels the playing field. Local businesses need not fear being placed at a competitive disadvantage by a local ordinance banning smoking if the state does it. Indeed, many local communities and businesses – in rural, suburban and urban Minnesota – have passed resolutions or made statements that they prefer a statewide ban over a local ban.

Unfortunately, some of my colleagues in the State House of Representatives stand firmly in the way of progress. Rather than working to build a healthier and safer Minnesota, they have chosen to prevent this issue from getting a fair and open public hearing. They choose to allow Minnesota to fall behind places like Lexington, Ky., (the heart of tobacco country), California, New York, Idaho, Delaware, Ireland, Sweden and Norway as they fall prey to the tobacco lobby.

As the Star Tribune reported in March, then Surgeon General C. Everett Koop first concluded in a 1986 report that breathing secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer and other health problems. Otis R. Bowen, then secretary of health and human services, noted in transmitting that report to President George Bush: “the choice to smoke should not interfere with the nonsmoker’s choice for an environment free of tobacco smoke.”

With this latest CDC report, I ask my opponents: how much more proof do you need? How long must we wait?

My bill does not prevent adults from smoking. It ensures that we can eat, drink and work in restaurants and bars without smoking along with them. 80 percent of Minnesotans do not smoke. It’s time we assert our right to breathe clean air when we are in public places.

Ron Latz is a state representative, DFL-St. Louis Park. Send comments to [email protected]