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Lifestyles & Community

October 23, 2009

5 reasons to ban smoking in public places

As more cities consider bans on smoking in public places, Kentucky, as one of the heavier tobacco-using states, will undoubtedly continue to debate the pros and cons of this issue with considerable fervor. As a health and physical educator, I feel the need to weigh in on this topic. As you might expect, I support smoking bans with few reservations. Here are five reasons why.

No. 1: Secondhand smoke has serious negative health consequences. I personally don’t care what you do to your own body, although the educator in me would advise you to quit for your own good. I do care that your behavior affects the health of others.

Unlike other self-indulgent behaviors like eating fast food or drinking alcohol in public, secondhand smoke is not singularly linked to the participant. The negative effects of smoking in public carry over into other people’s lives with a tangible, measurable, and sometimes permanent impact. Whereas eating fast food for every meal or excessive alcohol consumption is likely harmful to the individual, the negative impact on others is minimal. Some may argue that eating too much fast food may cause an earlier death and the associated increased cost of medical care is a burden on the taxpayer. While probably true, the link is weaker, less immediate and less measurable than the one between secondhand smoke and health.

Secondhand smoke exposure is clearly linked with negative outcomes on a person’s health. While the exact degree of harm is debatable, a recent study published in the medical journal Circulation reviewed 13 studies from around the world and found that banning smoking in public places can reduce heart attack hospitalizations by up to 36 percent over time, regardless of geographical location. Clearly, it’s become increasingly more difficult to make a case that secondhand smoke causes no measurable injury to the breather — especially over time. The scientific evidence that links secondhand smoke with heart disease and cancer has been mounting for decades. Not only that, the effects of temporary exposure to smoke are also well documented and include headaches, breathing problems, and even nausea. The bottom line is that secondhand smoke has numerous short-term and long-term consequences for innocent bystanders.

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