Half of us in the US now live in cities, towns or states that ban smoking in public places, including restaurants and bars (it’s nice to be more enlightened than Europe in at least a few things):
Seven states and 116 communities enacted tough smoke-free laws last year, bringing the total number to 22 states and 577 municipalities, according to the group. Nevada’s ban, which went into effect Dec. 8, increased the total U.S. population covered by any type of smokefree law to 50.2 percent.
It was the most successful year for anti-smoking advocates in the U.S., said Frick, and advocates are now working with local and state officials from across the nation on how to bring the other half of the country around.
In a sign of the changing climate, new U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi banned smoking in the ornate Speaker’s Lobby just off the House floor this month, and the District of Columbia recently barred it in public areas. Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Louisiana and New Jersey also passed sweeping anti-smoking measures last year. (AP)
I tend toward a libertarian view and do not necessarily think we need to protect people from themselves in most instances. But smoking in public places endangers others, according to a recent Surgeon General’s report:
Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent and lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent. The finding is of major public health concern due to the fact that nearly half of all nonsmoking Americans are still regularly exposed to secondhand smoke.
The report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, finds that even brief secondhand smoke exposure can cause immediate harm. The report says the only way to protect nonsmokers from the dangerous chemicals in secondhand smoke is to eliminate smoking indoors.
“The report is a crucial warning sign to nonsmokers and smokers alike,” HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt said. “Smoking can sicken and kill, and even people who do not smoke can be harmed by smoke from those who do.”
Secondhand smoke exposure can cause heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and is a known cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory problems, ear infections, and asthma attacks in infants and children, the report finds.
“The health effects of secondhand smoke exposure are more pervasive than we previously thought,” said Surgeon General Carmona, vice admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service. “The scientific evidence is now indisputable: secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance. It is a serious health hazard that can lead to disease and premature death in children and nonsmoking adults.” Secondhand smoke contains more than 50 cancer-causing chemicals, and is itself a known human carcinogen. Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke inhale many of the same toxins as smokers. Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and increases risk for heart disease and lung cancer, the report says. In addition, the report notes that because the bodies of infants and children are still developing, they are especially vulnerable to the poisons in secondhand smoke.
The campaign against smoking in public places is having an effect. Recent data on blood cotinine levels in a sample of Americans, a marker for exposure to tobacco smoke, shows a drop of 70% in 20 years. In the late eighties 88% of non-smokers had detectable cotinine levels from exposure to second hand smoke. By 2002, the number was 43%.
Purveyors of tobacco and tobacco products are committing homicide for profit. That’s not a libertarian issue as far as we are concerned. It is a matter for the criminal justice system.
Meanwhile we’ll settle for banning smoking in public places.