Letter to the Editor

Hoosiers can't wait for smokefree workplace law

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

To the Editor:

This week, the Indiana Senate Public Policy Committee will once again debate provisions for a new smokefree workplace law for Indiana. It will not be a new issue for most of them. They've had this debate before.

This year, an appeal by both Gov. Mitch Daniels and Health Commissioner Greg Larkin for legislation with as few exemptions as possible has brought hope to health advocates who believe a strong law could finally get passed. By strong law, I mean one with few, if any exemptions, that protects all employees from the dangerous carcinogens contained in secondhand smoke.

Unfortunately, much of the conversation currently taking place around the Statehouse continues to include exemptions, making the certainty of passing a strong law anything but certain. There is still too much political posturing and partisan rhetoric and not enough urgency for creating safe work environments and saving lives.

All Hoosier workers have the right to work in a smokefree environment, including those who work in bars, taverns and casinos. And bar workers shouldn't have to wait an unreasonable 18 months for their protection to begin while others are able to enjoy smokefree workplaces much earlier. Decades of scientific data and analyses of smoking-related disease, tobacco use and secondhand smoke tell a very compelling and irrefutable story. States with strong smokefree workplace laws, like New York, Michigan and California, have proven that the public's health improves and tax dollars are saved following the implementation of strong smokefree workplace laws.

Here are some facts that need to be front and center in this debate. In 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General declared secondhand smoke a "serious health hazard." More than 7,000 chemicals are found in secondhand smoke including at least 69 that cause cancer. Each year, nearly 50,000 Americans die from lung cancer and heart disease attributable to secondhand smoke.

A poll conducted in January 2012 by Public Opinion Strategies showed that 70 percent of Indiana voters support a smokefree air law that would prohibit smoking in indoor workplaces, bars and restaurants. Eighty-five percent know that secondhand smoke is a health hazard, with 58 percent saying it is a serious health hazard.

A second study, conducted in January 2012 by the Bowen Research Center at Indiana University, found that the economic cost of secondhand smoke in Indiana is $1.3 billion annually. This translates to $201 per year for every resident.

A third report released by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in 2011 says that making all restaurants and bars in Indiana smokefree would mean that in a period of five years 65,300 adults would quit smoking; 27,300 youth would never start smoking; 40,600 smoking-related deaths would be averted; and 4,500 non-smoking-related deaths would be prevented.

Hoosiers need to know that despite the disappointing lack of progress here in Indiana over the years, there have been enormous gains in the United States and around the world to protect workers from secondhand smoke. Twenty-nine states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and hundreds of cities and counties are currently enjoying the health and fiscal benefits of a smokefree air law. Indiana has been left behind and for no good reason.

Decades of data, our governor, the health commissioner and the public have weighed in and done their part -- now it is time for the House and Senate to do the same and pass a smokefree workplace law that includes bars, taverns and casinos.

G. Marie Swanson, PhD

Board Member

American Cancer Society, 
Great Lakes Division

Professor and Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Health IUPUI