Tennessee, if you haven’t already heard, has the fourth-highest rate of lung cancer in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and almost 10,000 people in Tennessee die from smoking-related causes each year.
That’s way too many, and that is exactly why state lawmakers should extend a ban on smoking to places such as over-21 venues that now are exempt from a law passed in 2007 banning smoking in most workplaces.
“There literally are hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans who are healthier and tens of thousands who do not have lung cancer or heart disease because they now get to breathe clean air,” State Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, told a Tennessean reporter recently. “Yet other Tennesseans are still at great risk, and that’s simply not right.”
Herron’s comments came after the advocacy group Campaign for a Healthy and Responsible Tennessee, or CHART, said it wants to eliminate exemptions in the law that include allowing smoking at places such as 21-and-up establishments, hotel rooms, workplaces with “garage-door” access and sites with three or fewer workers.
Some people will argue that the state’s ban is already too strict and that there is no need to extend it. Others will say smokers need an option such as a bar where they can smoke and that there are plenty of other places for nonsmokers who want to avoid the smoke.
Some argue that it’s a personal choice and unless the state is going to outlaw smoking altogether, there must be exemptions.
But those who make such arguments need to read the most recent report from the U.S. surgeon general on the health consequences of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke.
The report, which was last revised in 2007, said smoking is the single greatest avoidable cause of disease and death. It said millions of Americans, both children and adults, are still exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes and workplaces despite substantial progress in tobacco control.
“Secondhand smoke exposure causes disease and premature death in children and adults who do not smoke,” the surgeon general’s report said. “Exposure of adults to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and causes coronary heart disease and lung cancer. . . . Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposures of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke.”
State Rep. Eric Swafford, a Pikeville Republican, told a Tennessean reporter recently that he would support an extension of the workplace smoking ban.
“I’ll be honest — I was not in favor of that compromise when it was reached a couple of years ago,” the legislator said of the exemptions contained in the bill that went into effect in 2007. “. . . I don’t think it’s fair that we’re taking care of workers in almost every situation. We need to take care of everybody. Just because someone works at a venue that is age-restrictive, that doesn’t make their health any less important.”
He is absolutely correct. When it comes to health and the cost of good and bad health, every person matters.
And improving upon our health should be a goal of all Tennesseans, smokers and nonsmokers alike, even if it means finding more money to help smokers kick the habit.