Nine months and smoke-free: It’s already paying off
Congratulations, Minnesota, for making it nine months smoke-free! I know that going smoke-free is old news, but I continue to hear the different sides of discussion even now.
As a physician, I have routinely been hearing cheers and jeers regarding the smoking restrictions. Most of the jeering is focused on an individual’s “right to smoke.”
I am not going to debate what is in the Bill of Rights we all hold so dear. Instead, I would like to bring forth evidence that is very well known to the medical community that supports a smoke-free workplace.
First, a statistic that startles me and should startle you: Secondhand smoke is attributed to 35,000 heart-related deaths and 3,000 lung cancer-related deaths among nonsmokers in the United States every year.
Risks of exposure studied for decades
This is unacceptable. The exposure of nicotine to nonsmokers who work in an environment with unlimited smoking has been studied for well more than 20 years.
The evidence was already clear that nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at a higher risk of smoking-related health problems than nonsmokers who are not exposed to secondhand smoke.
These studies are the basis of many smoking bans in places of employment.
There have been multiple studies looking at the effects of these bans. Here are just a few examples:
The British Medical Journal in 2004 found that there was a significant drop in admissions for heart attacks a mere six months after such a smoking ban was enforced. This study was done in Helena, Mont.
Quick damage to arteries’ inner layers
The New England Journal of Medicine in 1996 published an article that looked at the inner layer of blood vessels in young, healthy nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke and the vessels of habitual smokers.
Damage to the inner layer of the arteries is responsible for conditions such as heart attacks and strokes — two of the leading causes of death in the United States. After just 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke, the damage to the inner layers of the arteries in the nonsmokers resembled those of the habitual smokers. Imagine what kind of damage can be done in a 12-hour shift serving tables!
In 1998, a study published by JAMA looked at bartenders in San Francisco. About 74 percent interviewed reported some type of respiratory symptoms before the smoking ban in bars.
At that time, they also had lung testing done. After the ban, of those having symptoms before the ban, 59 percent had complete resolution of their symptoms within one to two months. There was also an overall significant improvement of the lung tests just one to two months after the ban as well.
Bans help smokers as well
Although this is a secondhand smoking issue, I do want to point out the benefit of a workplace smoking ban to smokers.
California banned smoking in all restaurants in addition to enforcing “tobacco control,” which focused on education and prevention. Lung-cancer rates dropped by 29 percent in California men and 4.8 percent in California women in a 10-year period.
These just a few of many articles that show the dangers of secondhand smoking. And I haven’t even begun discussing effects of secondhand smoke on children and pregnant women in these establishments.
Many solutions other than smoking bans have been proposed. One of the more popular solutions is ventilation.
There are no studies showing ventilation reducing health-related problems from secondhand smoke. In fact, the manufacturers deny any such claim. Believe me, if a ventilation system manufacturer found a way to completely purify air, it would market these systems like crazy and get rich doing so.
Designations don’t help the staff
Another solution is having designated smoking establishments and nonsmoking establishments. This is fine for the patrons, but does not do any favors for the employees.
During hard times, people take jobs wherever they can get them. It is inevitable that nonsmokers would work in places that allow smoking because of a lack of choices in jobs.
Many people are worried about places closing because of the smoking ban. I know that several establishment owners have actually seen an increase in their business since the ban.
As a nonsmoker, I have enjoyed several establishments that I used to avoid because of the smoke. As someone who was pregnant last year, I was still able to do activities such as bowling and not expose my unborn child to secondhand smoke.
These businesses are now open to more people now that smoking is restricted, not less.
As a physician, I have already seen how this ban has helped people who work in bars finally quit smoking. I have patients who struggled quitting because they were around smoke at work. They have been more successful in quitting now that they are able to completely avoid secondhand smoking.
There are many other states starting to look at banning smoking in bars and restaurants. I’m proud to live in a state that chose health and I hope that our progress helps other states make that commitment as well.
Jennifer Holmes is a doctor at the Mid-Minnesota Family Medicine Center in St. Cloud. This article originally appeared in the St. Cloud Times.
Want to add your voice?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion by writing a Community Voices article, email Susan Albright at salbright [at] minnpost [dot] com.