Lawmakers will have opportunity to impact Hoosier health, wellness

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

On Sept. 8, select Indiana lawmakers have a unique opportunity to dramatically impact the health and wellness of Hoosier residents and workers throughout the state while significantly reducing health care costs associated with many chronic diseases caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.

The ability to recommend the Indiana General Assembly pass a comprehensive smoke-free air law that covers all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, is in the hands of less than two dozen state senators and representatives who comprise the Health Finance Commission

Advocating on behalf of the health of Indiana workers who are exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace is the Indiana Campaign for Smokefree Air (ICSA).

A grassroots coalition of more than 400 organizations comprised of many of the state's most influential and active public health advocates, medical professionals, and public interest groups, the ICSA is stronger and more committed than ever before that the Indiana General Assembly pass a statewide comprehensive smoke-free air bill that protects all workers.

Twenty-seven states and Puerto Rico have enacted comprehensive smoke-free air laws that include bars and restaurants. While lawmakers in all of these states faced tough opposition from special interest groups such as Big Tobacco and others, the evidence that smoke-free air laws are good for health and for the economy proved irrefutable.

The health ramifications of secondhand smoke are devastating.

Each year, more than 1,200 adult non-smokers die from exposure to secondhand smoke. A 2009 report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that secondhand smoke exposure increases the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attacks and that smoke-free air laws can have a substantial impact in reducing this risk.

Additionally, exposure to secondhand smoke places an unnecessary burden on the state's health care expenditures.

A 2009 study by researchers from the Bowen Research Center of the Indiana University School of Medicine concluded that the overall cost of health care and premature loss of life attributed to secondhand smoke for Indiana residents in 2007 totaled more than $390 million.

All credible economic studies show communities with comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws have not seen a negative impact on the hospitality industry or any other sector.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a comprehensive review of 97 studies from eight countries found that smoking restrictions did not have a negative economic impact on restaurants and bars.

Finally, public support for a comprehensive smoke-free air law among Indiana's registered voters has consistently increased over the past few years. In 2009, 81 percent of voters agreed that all workers in Indiana should be protected from secondhand smoke in the workplace.

The simple fact is, no exposure to secondhand smoke is safe -- period.

Support for smoke-free air laws throughout the country is only getting stronger, and members of the Health Finance Commission should do right by the people of Indiana and recommend the General Assembly pass a strong, comprehensive smoke-free air law that covers all public workplaces, including bars and restaurants.

Over the next several months, the Indiana Campaign for smoke-free Air will rally supporters throughout the state to make their voices heard, because no Hoosier should be forced to choose between their health and their paycheck.

Danielle Patterson is the chairperson of Indiana Campaign for Smokefree Air and director of government relations for the American Heart Association.

The Indiana Campaign for Smokefree Air is committed to protecting all workers from exposure to secondhand smoke by working toward the adoption of a comprehensive smokefree workplace law that covers all workplaces. For information or to sign up for the newsletter, visit worksmokefree.com.