Two years ago, I wrote in MinnPost about a bill I had introduced in the Legislature proposing to make Minnesota’s foster homes smoke-free. It’s been a long road, but I’m very pleased to report that, beginning this month, all Minnesota children in foster care will be protected from secondhand smoke at home.
Most people are surprised to learn — as I was — that smoking was still allowed in Minnesota’s foster homes, especially given our state’s history of leadership in protecting people from tobacco in other settings. Almost 40 years ago we were the first state to restrict smoking in some workplaces, and in 2007 we passed the Freedom to Breathe Act – the very popular smoke-free law that extended protections against secondhand smoke to all workers. Schools and day cares are included in our clean-air law, and that’s why I was so surprised to learn that foster kids, one of our state’s most vulnerable populations, had been left out.
Denying secondhand smoke protections to the nearly 8,000 kids in Minnesota’s foster-care system was a tragic irony. After all, that system is intended to protect the lives, health and safety of children in the state’s care, and foster kids are far more likely to have preexisting health problems. Children’s bodies are still developing, and secondhand smoke is a known cause of SIDS, respiratory infections, asthma attacks and ear infections. Nationally, nearly 80 percent of foster kids have at least one chronic medical condition – and more than 40 percent of children who visit the emergency room live with smokers.
25 states and several MN counties led the way
Minnesota had lagged behind 25 other states in addressing this problem, but we can be proud that many Minnesota counties, including Dakota, Beltrami, Cottonwood, Jackson, Lake, Steele, Ramsey, Redwood and St. Louis, did not wait for the state and passed their own policies first. The success of these counties showed how smoke-free foster care could be implemented around the state, allaying the concerns of some lawmakers had about possible unintended effects.
As I worked on this issue it was heartening to receive support from those with the best perspective on this issue: foster parents themselves. They wrote from around the state to share their stories of caring for kids. They said it was unfair that children who have already been through so much weren’t guaranteed such a simple protection. The National Foster Parent Association passed a resolution supporting proposals like ours, and a poll found that 93 percent of Minnesotans also supported the change.
All sides saw the logic
In the end, while there were several hearings and discussions of the bill, we saw little political opposition emerge. A noncontroversial proposal is rare at the State Capitol, but in this case all sides saw the logic and the need for such a policy.
I want to thank Sen. Jeff Hayden, who carried the bill in the Senate. I also want to thank the American Lung Association, the Association for Nonsmokers – Minnesota, ClearWay Minnesota, the state and county child welfare workers and others who helped develop the policy and supported it throughout the process. Minnesota is fortunate to have a cadre of knowledgeable public health advocates backed by caring citizens who work for the good of all. I am grateful to have had a role in helping bring about this positive change for Minnesota. It was a privilege to represent some of our state’s small but important voices.
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