Scientific research supports smoking bans

With the St. Paul City Council’s approval of a smoking ban in bars and restaurants, the council has acknowledged what the U.S. government concluded 18 years ago: Exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke – “involuntary smoking” – is a serious threat to nonsmokers’ health.

In 1986, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop issued a report, “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Smoking,” outlining the risks of inhaling secondhand smoke. The report concluded that “involuntary smoking is a cause of disease, including lung cancer, in healthy nonsmokers.”

It also concluded that smokers’ children have a greater risk of developing respiratory disorders than nonsmokers’ children, and that separation of smokers and nonsmokers in the same air space does not eliminate nonsmokers’ exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.

The report also called on smokers and nonsmokers to take responsibility for their health, as well as that of their children and employees: “As employers and employees we must ensure that the act of smoking does not jeopardize the health of others.”

Eighteen years later, a study in the British Medical Journal published in June concluded secondhand smoke is even more dangerous than previously thought. The study, which followed more than 2,000 nonsmokers for 20 years, measured cotinine (a nicotine byproduct of tobacco smoke) levels in subjects’ blood, and found that nonsmokers with cotinine were at an increased risk for heart attacks by up to 60 percent – which might account for up to 80,000 heart attacks in the United States annually.

Stanton Glantz, a University of California-San Francisco researcher, said being close to someone smoking several cigarettes a day is about as bad as being a light smoker yourself.

Whatever people think about other issues related to smoking bans, secondhand smoke poses serious health risks to nonsmokers, period. Nonsmoking employees of bars and restaurants should not be forced to put their health in jeopardy in their workplaces, and nonsmoking bar patrons should not be expected to deal with other patrons’ poor health choices.

The St. Paul City Council made the right choice. Mayor Randy Kelly should follow suit, and the rest of Minnesota should wake up and smell the smoke-free air, too.