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The Lancaster County Coalition for Healthy Youth, a network of 40 public, private, civic and faith-based partners is writing in full support of the Health and Wellness Commission’s effort to implement a smoke-free policy throughout Lancaster County. While there have been several letters to the editor printed in response against this policy, we believe that much of this discussion can be characterized as misguided and misinformed.
Much of the discussion has focused on an individual’s choice to simply refuse to patronize a specific establishment that allows smoking. Since the percentage of United States smokers has now declined to 19 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 2009, ensuring that this small minority can continue to pollute the air does not seem to make good business sense. Data suggests that adoption of smoke-free ordinances has no impact on sales revenue for businesses in communities that adopt such policies.
In 2002, El Paso, Texas, implemented one of the nation’s strongest smoke-free indoor air ordinances, essentially banning smoking in all public places and workplaces, including restaurants and bars. To assess whether the smoking ban affected restaurant and bar revenues, the Texas Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control analyzed sales tax and mixed-beverage tax data during the 12 years preceding and one year after the smoking ban was implemented. The report found no statistically significant changes in restaurant and bar revenues occurred after the smoking ban took effect. The findings are consistent with those from studies of smoking bans in other U.S. cities.
While one might argue that individuals can select where they want to shop or eat, the employees of local businesses are often unable to choose to quit a job and secure employment in a smoke-free workplace. We believe that every individual should be provided protection for a safe and healthy work environment. Unfortunately, exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace is a significant threat to the health of those employees.
A recent report, “Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Cardiovascular Effects,” published by the Centers for Disease Control, documents that there is about a 25 to 30 percent increase in the risk of coronary heart disease from exposure to secondhand smoke. These findings agree with the 2006 Surgeon General’s Report conclusion that there are increased risks of coronary heart disease, morbidity and mortality among men and women exposed to secondhand smoke.
The report confirms that eliminating smoking in workplaces, restaurants, bars and other public places is an effective way to protect Americans from the health effects of secondhand smoke, particularly on the cardiovascular system.
The report also concluded that the evidence is compelling that even brief secondhand smoke exposure could trigger a heart attack.
Much of the discussion related to smoke-free policies has drifted to include alcohol or high-fat foods. Unfortunately, this argument is spurious and misses one key distinction. There is no safe exposure or usage of tobacco – none.
On the contrary, alcohol use at moderate levels for adults and with safety precautions (for example, the use of a designated driver, no use during pregnancy, etc.) poses little health-related risks. Likewise, the human body actually requires the moderate consumption of fats to metabolize fat-soluble vitamins.
We applaud the efforts of the Health and Wellness Commission to promote this policy and enthusiastically support its adoption throughout Lancaster County.