Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Surgeon General Backs Smoke-Free Workplaces

In a long-awaited report released today, the top doc in the country firmly concluded that there are no safe levels of secondhand smoke.

Other important findings in the report:
  • Around 3,400 nonsmoking Americans die from secondhand smoke-related ailments each year
  • Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, ear problems, and more severe asthma
  • More than 50 carcinogens exist in secondhand smoke
  • Simply designating smoking rooms and/or installing ventilation systems do not prevent exposure to secondhand smoke
  • There's strong evidence that comprehensive smoking bans don't have any negative economic impact
  • Even a brief walk through some else's smoke can increase the risk of ailments such as heart disease
  • Living with a smoker increases a nonsmoker's risk of heart disease and lung cancer by 30%
  • Evidence suggests a link between secondhand smoke and breast cancer
A handful of Wisconsin communities have some form of a smoking ban, including Madison, Appleton, La Crosse, River Falls, Eau Claire, Neenah, Fond du Lac, Middleton, Janesville, and Kenosha. Other communities such as Wauwatosa have followed suit in recent years. The Tosa ban -- which provides exemptions for establishments with at least 51% in alcohol sales, as do others -- starts this Saturday and is the first of its kind in Milwaukee County.

Many of these community bans, unfortunately, aren't comprehensive enough to meet the standards laid out in the Surgeon General report that was made public today.

The state of Wisconsin puts some restrictions on smoking in places such as medical facilities and movie theaters, as do other states, but no comprehensive ban exists (14 states currently have a comprehensive ban in place). This past state legislative session saw two different smoking ban proposals, one from the Dems and one from the GOP.

The GOP proposal allowed establishments to allow smoking in the bar area while prohibiting it in dining areas, which runs contrary to the Surgeon General's findings that such separation doesn't work.

Even more ominous in the GOP bill, championed by Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), was the requirement that local ordinances could not run contrary to the guidelines in the state bill. In other words, the bill would've effectively ended the bans in Madison, Appleton, Tosa and other Wisconsin communities.

While that bill passed the Assembly this past session, it failed in the Senate.

The Dem proposal, made by Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison), bans smoking in every location determined to be "a place of employment," with a few exceptions. Despite support from a couple Republican state senators and one Republican member of the Assembly, this bill went nowhere in the GOP-controlled legislature this past session.

Hopefully the long anticipated report from the Surgeon General will reinvigorate the debate in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

CNN covers the release of the Surgeon General report here.

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