Local smoke-free policies work

SBy Isis Stark Secondhand smoke kills approximately 65,000 nonsmokers every year and is the third-leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Secondhand smoke causes 300,000 cases of childhood bronchitis or pneumonia a year and doubles the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Workplace exposure to secondhand smoke causes more death and disease than all other regulated occupational substances combined. Secondhand smoke contains more than 50 cancer-causing chemicals and is a known human carcinogen. There is no safe level of exposure.

Based on this compelling evidence, more and more communities are taking action to protect the health of their children, the elderly and employees. Working with these communities is critical to the American Cancer Society because lung cancer is our number one priority and we are committed to reducing the incidence of lung cancer by reducing exposure to secondhand smoke.

Our commitment flows from the scientific data demonstrating that nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer. In Minnesota, one out of every three workers is exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace. A recent study found food service workers exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace have up to a 75 percent increase in their lung cancer risk.

With no safe level of exposure, smoke-free policies are the only measures that ensure adequate protection of children, elderly and workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Local smoke-free policies work because they reduce exposure to secondhand smoke and protect workers from the significant lung cancer risk caused by secondhand smoke.

Local smoke-free policies work because they create greater community awareness. The public discourse engages the whole community in a discussion of public health and raises community awareness of the health benefits of smoke-free environments. A community that has gone through the process of adopting a local smoke-free policy has a deep understanding of the health benefits of smoke-free environments and why it is an important public health issue.

Local smoke-free policies work because they allow community members to impact their public health policy at the local level. Local policies engage individuals as citizens to take direct action in order to protect themselves and their communities. The community mobilization that occurs brings many citizens together to collectively determine what is best for their community. Local policies aren’t adopted unless a majority of the community believes it is the right thing to do.

Local smoke-free policies work because they are part of a comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation strategy as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute. Even Phillip Morris recognizes in their own documents that local smoke-free policies are effective and are a significant threat to their long-term profitability.

Local smoke-free policies do not hurt the bottom line. The tobacco industry and its allies raise a false alarm that revenues will decline if smoke-free ordinances are implemented. This is simply not true. Economic studies from nearly 100 different communities across the country demonstrate that smoke-free regulations do not have an adverse economic impact on workplaces.

Because local smoke-free policies work, the tobacco industry and its allies are working hard to defeat action at the local level. Local smoke-free policies are examples of individuals and organizations working together in their communities. These local efforts are excellent examples of an engaged citizenry seeking to address an important public health issue. Such efforts are the underpinnings of our form of representative government.

Local smoke-free policies are democracy at work.

Isis Stark works for the American Cancer Society.

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