Ban smoking in public and asbestos wigs will be next
It’s no wonder that California and New York were the first to capture the attention of anti-smoking activists. By virtue of their being the most populous states in the nation, their smoking bans have had the broadest impact.
Now, activists have set their sights on a prize which, though much smaller, may bear even greater strategic significance. Succeed in Kentucky ‘ the top producer of burley tobacco and home to the highest rate of smokers ‘ and anti-smoking activists can succeed anywhere.
On Oct. 1, The Courier-Journal released poll results saying 54 percent of Jefferson County, Ky., residents opposed efforts to impose a ban on smoking in public businesses. That ban would include bars and restaurants.
The opposition is a surprise to no one. Jefferson County residents really like their cigarettes. But that was common knowledge.
Not only do more Kentuckians per capita smoke, the state also tops several other smoking related categories.
Kentucky has the highest lung cancer death rate, at 52.3 per 100,000 people (age adjusted), as opposed to the national average of 37.0, according to the American Lung Association.
Kentucky is also king of general lung disease with a rate of 94.0, disturbingly outpacing the national average of 71.8.
How much of that can be attributed to smoking?
Cigarette smoking alone is directly responsible for at least one-third of all cancer deaths annually in the United States, and contributes to low birth weight babies and cardiovascular disease, the National Cancer Institute says.
Cigarette smoking is the most significant cause of lung cancer and the leading cause of lung cancer death in both men and women.
So, maybe they should stand by their cigarettes in Jefferson County. After all, look at what cigarettes have done for them. Besides, this is America. People have the right to do bad things which possess only recreational appeal, or so opponents of the ban say.
It’s not exactly a point with substance, and as such isn’t worth debating. One that is worth debating, however, is the occasional claim that smokers aren’t hurting anyone but themselves.
Not true, whether they smoke in public or private.
Aside from the massive costs in unpaid health care bills accumulated by victims of lung disease, and apart from the dependents some victims leave behind, there are also the costs to those on the other end (smoke comes out of both, you know) of the cigarette.
Environmental tobacco smoke (second-hand smoke) is classified in the same group as the most dangerous cancer-causing agents by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA estimates that second-hand smoke is responsible for lung cancers in several thousand nonsmokers annually. The California EPA has concluded that second-hand smoke is directly related to coronary heart disease.
So, while smokers were calling public, indoor smoking a ‘right,’ one ban supporter likened it to driving on the sidewalk.
A ban opponent described it as no different than banning perfume. It’s a fair comparison if the perfume contains carcinogenic particulates and a generally unpleasant odor.
And, of course, there is the argument that people could be doing worse things. That’s like saying assault and battery is OK because it’s better than vehicular manslaughter.
It’s always difficult championing a cause that hurts people and has only one redeeming value: a buzz.
The good news for smokers is that the longest state-wide ban in existence went over surprisingly well, because quitting (and not starting) is easier when smoking is inconvenient and rarely encountered.
California banned smoking in restaurants and most other indoor workplaces in 1995. Bars were added to the list in 1998, and all the bans have been generally well received. In addition, a $1.3 billion anti-smoking campaign has been underway in the state since 1990.
Smoking rates are declining faster in California than the rest of the nation and studies have repeatedly shown no harm to businesses as a result of the bans.
The incidence of lung and bronchial cancers dropped 14 percent in the state from 1988 to 1997, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Dept. of Health Services. The Dept. of Health Services said those rates fell an additional 4.2 percent from 1997 to 1998.
Opponents of a ban argue it’s an issue of rights, not health. Supporters argue just the opposite.
Nothing is less American than the loss of personal freedom. Emphysema and lung cancer infringe upon life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to a far greater extent than a smoking ban ever could. And that’s the real issue.