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Advocates assert that city smoking bans protect public health

Even back in the not-so-health-conscious 1960s, cigarettes were called “cancer sticks” and “coffin nails.” Through the decades, a growing body of information has outlined the health hazards of smoking. Also, evidence mounted to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, spurring movements for smoke free public places.

Although some businesses choose to provide a smoke free environment for employees, customers and clients, several Mississippi cities have passed citywide smoking bans and others are considering them.

“These initiatives are timely as the most recent Surgeon General’s report outlines the dangers of exposure to secondhand smoke,” said Jennifer Cofer, division director of programs for the American Lung Association’s Mississippi Chapter. “We’re involved with these initiatives along with the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.”

She said the healthcare associations are mainly involved as a resource and as educational advocates. They not only point out the health risks of secondhand smoke, but also affirm that costs of maintenance to buildings and healthcare costs to employers are significantly reduced when businesses are smoke free.

“Some mayors don’t want to intrude on businesses’ policies, but business and healthcare costs are intertwined,” Cofer said.

Starkville Mayor Daniel Camp did not hesitate to become involved in the passage of the Oktibbeha County municipality’s citywide smoking ban last May. “It has transitioned into a smooth ordinance and continues to be accepted,” the first-term mayor said. “It’s a good ordinance and is specific about the number of feet from the door that smoking can take place outside a business.”

He said there was some opposition from restaurant and bar owners, but the support was overwhelming from the community. Supporters used impressive research from Mississippi State University to promote adoption of the ordinance.

“There was a lot of evidence to support a ban and it was popular in the community,” he said. “I’d guess 70% to 80% of the community supported implementing the ban.”

Camp feels the city’s ban has not hurt businesses, noting that most business people have cooperated. “It has not hurt our sales tax figures and hotel and restaurant taxes are up,” he said. “We have a lot of retirees locating here and this ban adds to the quality of life.”

Monica Stinson with The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi’s Golden Triangle chapter says there was hesitancy to pass Starkville’s ordinance at first but it moved along once residents and council members received more information.

“Smoke-free laws are very important,” she said. “They protect the health of all citizens and we believe in that.”
The Partnership for a Healthy Northeast Mississippi is helping to educate Tupelo residents about the hazards of smoking as that city prepares to vote on a citywide ban.

“We’ve heard very little opposition and we expect it to pass,” said Tonya Gentry with the Partnership. “The medical community supports the ordinance that is modeled after one developed by Americans for Non Smokers Rights.”

The Partnership says the new Surgeon General’s report on secondhand smoke leaves no doubt that secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard. The report states that there is no safe level and that secondhand smoke isn’t just an annoyance.

“The Surgeon General’s report is the most highly-respected scientific authority on smoking and health, and this report’s conclusion is crystal clear: There is no question that secondhand smoke causes serious disease and death,” said Sandra Shelson, executive director of The Partnership. “Eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke is one of the goals in our mission to improve the health of all Mississippians by reducing tobacco use among our citizens.”

Dr. Tom Payne, a clinical psychologist and associate director of University Medical Center’s smoking cessation center, says more and more employers are seeing the downsides to smoking. “The program we deliver is intensive treatment for heavy and long-time smokers and those with other complications,” he said.

He points out that smoking is not just a bad habit; it’s an addiction and very hard to stop. Some factors, including depression, other substance addictions and medical disorders make it even tougher. The center has a trained staff located in the Jackson Medical Mall and at 13 sites around the state to help smokers quit.

“Tobacco use may be involved in depression or the intensity of it. There is some evidence emerging about that,” Payne said. “About one-third of the smokers we treat report depression.”

He says that from the employer’s perspective, smoking is absolutely bad. “Employees lose time to go smoke several times a day. They congregate around the front door. Fire insurance costs are higher,” he said. “Smokers adversely affect the bottom line by missing more days and having longer hospital stays. They have long, drawn out illnesses that are more costly. You can just go down the line and anywhere smokers are not a good investment.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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