Health board supports ban on indoor smoking

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
The Rowan County Board of Health wants smoking banned in all indoor work sites and public places.
Board members voted unanimously Tuesday night to go on record in support of N.C. House Bill 2, which would require work sites and public places in North Carolina to become smoke-free.
Chairperson Barbara Andrews said she believed there was an urgent need for the board to take a stand as a vote on the bill may be coming up soon.
Dr. Jim Cowan, Allied Health Services director and Healthy! Rowan coordinator for the health department, said House Bill 2 will go from the Health Committee to the Appropriations Committee before coming up for a vote on the House floor. “If it passes the House, it will go to the Senate,” he said.
The last time legislation banning smoking from work sites and indoor places came up, it was defeated by a 61-55 vote. “That’s quite close …” Cowan said, “so hopefully this is the year.”
Board member Dan Mikkelson asked for clarification on whether the legislation would ban smoking in public outdoor places. Cowan said it would not.
Board members approved a letter Cowan drafted for them to send to state legislators, saying the bill “will save thousands of lives and billions in healthcare and lost productivity costs.”
Andrews described the letter as “very articulate and very compelling.”
The letter listed six reasons the legislation should be passed, including:
– The Surgeon General of the United States’ report that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke and that nearly 86 percent of North Carolinians agree or strongly agree that employees should be able to work in smoke-free environment.
– It is estimated that more than 1,000 individuals die each year from smoking-related exposures in North Carolina. As little as 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger a heart attack in someone with heart disease or at risk for heart disease, and non-smokers routinely exposed to secondhand smoke have a 50 percent increase risk in developing lung cancer.
Secondhand smoke is also harmful to children and can increase their risk for SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), lung infections, ear problems and more severe asthma.
– When confronted with other issues that cause harm to the public, such as food safety in restaurants and safe medical and management practices in nursing homes and hospitals, the N.C. General Assembly has passed legislation to regulate and ensure the protection of the public’s health.
– The rights of smokers should be secondary to the rights of others who wish to work in a safe environment, free of secondhand smoke.
– Smoke-free environments reduce tobacco use by creating conditions that help current tobacco users quit and decrease the number of people who start using tobacco. In addition to saving lives, smoke-free policies save healthcare costs.
The use of tobacco costs for North Carolina taxpayers is $2.46 billion in direct health-care costs (including $769 million in Medicaid expenses alone) and an additional $3.3 billion in the annual loss of worker productivity.
– Studies show that smoke-free workplace laws have either a positive or neutral effect on business.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.