Battle Lines Drawn in War Over Smoking

"In the United States, the first thing that will happen with a smoking ban is that the number of people having heart attacks will drop by about 20 percent," Glantz said. "The laws' popularity will grow over time, and people will quit smoking or cut down on their smoking, which is why the tobacco companies are so hysterical about these laws."

Even hard-core tobacco addicts tend to favor smoking bans, research shows. About 80 percent of smokers want to quit, according to Bronson Frick, the associate director of the organization Americans for Non-Smokers' Rights.

American adult smoking rates have significantly declined since 1965, when the number of adult smokers hit 42.4 percent. In 1997, this figure fell to 24.7 percent and the smoking rate for American youth, grades 9 through 12, slid to 36.4 percent. Today, approximately 21.8 percent of American adults are smokers and 20 percent of youth smokes, according to Joel London, a press officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The harm to smokers from their habit is well-known, but the effect on nonsmokers can also be substantial. The CDC states that secondhand smoke causes heart disease, lung cancer and sudden infant death syndrome. After smoke-free laws are implemented, many states report lower rates of secondhand smoke exposure for nonsmokers.

After smoke-free laws in the state of New York took effect, restaurant and bar employees were exposed to 98 percent less secondhand smoke. A new CDC study found that about 46 percent of nonsmokers had nicotine in their blood in tests from 1999 through 2004. In previous tests during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when few smoking bans were in force, that figure was 84 percent.

State efforts to enact bans often get bogged down in the details of how they would be implemented, proponents of the laws say. This was a factor in Iowa, which passed its statewide smoke-free air laws July 1.

At issue was a provision that allowed outdoor smoking areas, but only for bars and not restaurants. Thus, if a bar were to serve more than prepackaged food, peanuts, popcorn, ice and reheated frozen meals, it would be considered a restaurant that couldn't have outdoor smoking. The provision, after much debate, stayed in the final bill.

"This is a clear case where a state agency is going beyond the scope of the intended legislation," said Iowa bar owner Tom Baldwin on Smoking Lobby's Smoking Ban News.

There's pushback as well from smokers who don't want the government telling them what to do.

"Nobody is telling us we can't sell fried dough boys to children at carnivals anymore," said Sara Lopez, age 25, a self-proclaimed avid smoker from Queens, New York. "And we all know that those are cheap and horrible for cholesterol levels and health. Smoking should be a choice. If it is legal to farm tobacco, it should be legal to smoke it -- especially in restaurants, bars and clubs."

Not only are smoke-free laws hard to get passed, they must be defended once they're in place, said Callaway. "Illinois continues to fight off attempts to weaken their smoke-free law. Ohio has had amendments to weaken their law. It's a constant battle to keep them in place once we get them in place."

But the battle goes on, especially at the city and town level. The coalition Smoke Free Dallas is considering an expansion of the Dallas smoking ban for August. The group is pushing for a smoking ban in all indoor spaces.

"It's definitely the tobacco companies and their allies that interfere, whether they work with bar owners or casinos," Callaway said. "Sometimes the tobacco lobbyists partner with the libertarian-minded entities, who believe it isn't the government's responsibility to restrict these individual business owners."

Not all cigarette companies fight the bans. Philip Morris USA, one of the largest tobacco companies, said it does not interfere with smoke-free air laws, according to a spokesperson for the company.

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