Satnan: The time for indoor smoking ban has come

May 18, 2013

Despite the clanging of the critics, it is way past time for Sedalia to have an across-the-board indoor smoking ban. And when you look at those critics’ arguments, when you peel away all the puffery about individual rights and government intrusion and communism/socialism/fillintheblankism, what you are left with is selfishness.

Those who would like to see smoking continue in indoor public areas care only about themselves and what is convenient to them. There are real societal, health and economic costs tied to smoking, but none of that matters to them if the smoker is required to step outside to light up.

For every study that smoking advocates can cite stating that indoor smoking bans are economically detrimental to bars and restaurants, those who oppose smoking in public areas can turn to alternative research to counter the argument.

A 2008 report by Michael R. Pakko, “The Economic Impact of a Smoking Ban on Columbia, Missouri: An Analysis of Sales Tax Data for the First Year,” found that “the smoking ban has been associated with statistically significant losses in sales tax revenues by Columbia’s bars and restaurants, with an average decline of approximately 3 — to 4 percent.”

On the flip side, the Orlando Sentinel reported in August 2011: “A new economic study … from the Orange County Health Department found that smoking bans in Florida have not harmed businesses. And in some cases, being smoke-free had a positive effect on business profits.”

So the financial cost of smoking bans depends on whose research you choose to believe. But that is not the case when you pore through study after study examining the public health impact of smoking bans. Headline after headline — “Smoke-free policies improve health,” “Smoking bans cut number of heart attacks, strokes,” “Smoking ban has reduced asthma and heart attacks” — hammer home the truth that society at large benefits when smoking is pushed out of indoor public spaces.

Here in Pettis County, our cancer and smoking rates are among the highest in the state. That is why Bothwell Regional Health Center built the Canon Center for Cancer and Cardiovascular Care. In a September 2011 report in the Democrat, it was noted that “the need for the Canon Center rose from Bothwell experiencing a 23 percent increase in demand for cancer treatment over the past three years.”

On April 5, the Democrat’s Emily Jarrett reported: “A study from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services shows if there was a 17 percent reduction in the number of heart attacks, that could save about $700,000 locally in Sedalia. The study also notes Pettis County’s rate of hospitalization for heart attack is 70 percent greater than the Missouri rate.”

According to the Robert Woods Johnson County Health Rankings, Pettis County has a 29 percent smoking rate compared to 23 percent for the entire state. And the 2011 County Level Health Survey, conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that in Pettis County, 68 percent of respondents lived in a household where smoking is not allowed in the home and 83 percent of respondents were employed by companies that do not allow smoking in public areas. Then consider that the 2011 Missouri Information for Community Assessment indicated health literacy has improved in Pettis County, as participants reported knowing better the dangers of smoking compared to results in 2007. For example, in 2007, 76 percent of respondents knew that smoking can cause a heart attack; that jumped to 85.6 percent in 2011.

When you boil all of that data down, here is what it means: Pettis County residents know smoking is bad for them, and a vast majority already is used to smoking being banned in their homes and from public places in their everyday lives. But despite knowing the health risks to themselves and others, a great percentage of local residents still choose to smoke, putting themselves and others at risk.

A ban on smoking in indoor public spaces does not deprive anyone of any right or privilege. Smokers can puff away all they want in their homes, cars and outdoors except in specified areas. And splitting hairs over what constitutes a bar or a restaurant spins the issue into an enforcement nightmare, so an across-the-board mandate truly is the most fair application.

Smokers should not be allowed to pollute the air in public spaces any more than nudists should be allowed to wander about in public with no clothes on. As a society, we have deemed that nudists must confine their activity to designated areas; smoking is no different, except that smokers’ antisocial behavior has lasting effects on others’ health and well-being.

— Bob Satnan is a member of the Healthy Living Action Group, a sub committee of the Sedalia/Pettis County Blue Ribbon Health and Wellness Planning Team.