Smoking ban clearly was the right move

Four years ago, a lopsided majority of Washington voters approved a ban on smoking in public places. While citizens may have the right to smoke, voters felt that right should not extend to subjecting others to their secondhand smoke.

Many in the food and beverage industry, fearing the smoking ban would hurt business, mounted an unsuccessful attempt to defeat the 2005 initiative. A number of tavern and restaurant owners in this and other states with smoking bans have complained anew in recent weeks, saying they need every advantage they can get to stay afloat in this deep recession.

We’re not convinced easing the smoking ban would help. To the contrary, there’s evidence that it might hurt business. The Washington Department of Revenue reported last year that tax data showed that the food and beverage industry’s earnings rose by 20 percent from 2006 to 2007.

In any event, the health benefits from this ban would seem to far outweigh concerns raised by its opponents. Indeed, according to a new report by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Medicine, those benefits are greater than voters in this state knew in 2005. The report, issued last week, summarizes a number of in-depth studies conducted over the past several years, all confirming that smoking bans in taverns and restaurants are reducing the risk of heart attacks among nonsmokers.

“The evidence is clear,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told Associated Press medical writer Lauran Neergaard. “Smoke-free laws don’t hurt business … but they prevent heart attacks in nonsmokers.”

Secondhand smoke has long been linked to lung cancer, asthma, heart disease and premature births. But the CDC says that secondhand smoke is an under-recognized cause of heart attacks in the country. A CDC study completed early this year found that a smoking ban in Pueblo, Colo., led to a 41 percent drop in heart attack hospitalizations with three years of its enactment. Researchers found no such drop over the same three-year period in two neighboring areas without smoking bans. In Helena, Mont., CDC researchers documented a 16 percent drop in heart attack hospitalizations just six months after a smoking ban was implemented.

Secondhand smoke is a well-documented health hazard for nonsmokers. It contains more than 50 cancer-causing chemicals. Federal health officials have estimated that each year secondhand smoke kills about 3,400 nonsmoking Americans from lung cancer, 46,000 from heart disease and 430 from sudden infant syndrome. A University of California , San Francisco study concluded that exposure to secondhand smoke is about 80 percent as harmful as being a smoker.

Given these risks, there can be no justification for subjecting nonsmoking restaurant employees or patrons to secondhand smoke. This is not a question of personal freedom. It’s a public health issue, pure and simple.


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