I think we can all agree that clean air is better than hazardous air. If there is something we can do to decrease the presence of hazards in the air we breathe it would make everyone healthier. That is why I support the two Smoke-Free Air Ordinances being proposed for the City of Boise.
The science on tobacco smoke is clear; it causes cancer, heart disease, damages the circulatory and respiratory systems, leads to low birth weight babies and makes it harder to control diabetes. All of these problems can also affect people who don’t smoke, but are exposed to the smoke of others, even if that smoke is outdoors.
We all make choices in our lives, and tobacco use is one of them. The overwhelming majority (84 percent) of Idaho adults choose not to smoke. We do not always have the same freedom when it comes to employment. Tough economic times may mean that working in a bar is the only job available. Should someone be forced to decide between making a living and living a healthy life? We think not.
There is already precedent for our argument. The federal government sets standards for the levels of toxic substances workers can be exposed to in industrial settings. Most industrial sites are on private property. We see a direct parallel to the health of workers involved in other trades as well. A study published in June 2010 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology concluded that nonsmokers exposed to higher levels of secondhand smoke were twice as likely to die from heart disease as nonsmokers with lower exposure levels.
Parks and the Greenbelt are another issue. Parks are set aside for the health and recreation of the public. They are places where parents take thir children. It is where we all gather for special events. The 2006 Surgeon General’s Report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, concluded that there is no risk-free level of exposure to tobacco smoke, even out of doors. Since the majority of us do not smoke, why should the few take enjoyment of our parks, and our health, away from the many? The same goes for sidewalk cafes and bus stops.
The proposed ordinances are reasonable steps to improve the living and working environment for all people, even smokers. Smokers will cry foul and that we are treading on their rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. They can still buy and use this legal product. They just will not be able to use it in those places where other people, who may not be smokers, work, eat or play.
Russ Duke is the director of the Central District Health Department.