Thursday, January 31, 2008

The effects of secondhand smoke on state legislators

I am still hopeful that Wisconsin will join the tide of other states moving to ban smoking in public places, including taverns and clubs, soon. But I am extremely dismayed by today's news that a heavily compromised version of the bill offered by Senate Democrats has been rejected by anti-smoking groups.

I don't blame them for thumbing their noses at the offer. What I'm dismayed by is the compromised version of the bill. Sen. Roger Breske (D-Eland) made the offer, backed by your friend and mine Majority Leader Russ Decker (heavens do I miss Judy), that included a delay of the law for taverns until July 2011 (anti-smoking groups wanted it to go into effect in 2010 for bars and 2009 for all other work places). It also included a provision that would have prohibited any community from enacting separate legislation to ban smoking prior to the state-wide effective date.

In a word: lame.

But what really got my hackles in a tizzy was a statement by Breske, when he claimed that the argument that secondhand smoke is a hazard to non-smoking patrons was "hogwash." His reason for believing that? "I'm still alive."

Good for you. But I find it unacceptable that one of our elected leaders seems to harbor such disdain for mountains of scientific evidence to the contrary. Have some statistics, courtesy of the EPA and the NIH:

  • EPA has concluded that exposure to secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in adults who do not smoke. EPA estimates that exposure to secondhand smoke causes approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths per year in nonsmokers.
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke has also been shown in a number of studies to increase the risk of heart disease.
  • ETS is a human lung carcinogen, responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually in U.S. nonsmokers. ETS has been classified as a Group A carcinogen under EPA's carcinogen assessment guidelines. This classification is reserved for those compounds or mixtures which have been shown to cause cancer in humans, based on studies in human populations.
  • There are conclusive published studies that indicate increased risk of lung cancer in nonsmoking women living with smoking husbands or working with smoking co-workers.
Need more convincing? Check out this fact sheet from the American Lung Association.

I can't believe anyone in this day and age, with access to libraries, the internet, and even television, would have the brass ones to make a ridiculous claim like "secondhand smoke doesn't hurt people." In public. As an elected official.

I think the original plan--bars get until 2010, everyone else gets until 2009--is plenty of time for people and places to adapt. Plus, the fact remains that our two nearest neighbors, Minnesota and Illinois, currently do having smoking bans in place, so the argument that crazed Wisconsin smokers would flee across the borders for their nic fixes is pretty ridiculous, unless we expect them to drive all the way to Iowa or Indiana.

There are arguments to be made about the potential negative economic impact such a ban might have, but ultimately, the more states that follow suit, the less of an issue it'll be. And in the end, this is another instance of something coming down to how we think about and treat the general health of our fellow citizens. Sorry Mr. Breske, but your argument is hogwash.

4 comments:

Liz @ SmokeFree Wisconsin said...

Emily, thanks for writing about this and exposing the true terms of the "deal" offered by Sen. Breske. He and the Tavern League were also gunning for an exemption for smoking rooms (aka "cancer cubes") that was simply unacceptable.

I hope the introduction of a companion bill in the Assembly will get us back on track!

Emily said...

Hi Liz! My pleasure to do my small part. The whole thing was just too ridiculous not to at least comment on.

I'm adding the SmokeFree Wisconsin blog to my blog roll, because I think you're all doing great work!

Kyle said...

Thank you for pointing out the true hogwash of trusted officials taking policy advice from special interest groups above scientific evidence, national experts, and public support. Where is the mainstream media in investigating the issue and holding our leadership accountable instead of publishing talking points they are fed? The true story here is how this issue is NOT dead, and how our Democratic Senate leadership is trying to kill it.

D.Alexander said...

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