Let’s make Idaho smoke-free

By Heidi Low

If you say “Smoking is bad for you” you’d be hard pressed to find someone to truly disagree with you. But when the conversation turns to how smoking affects people around the smoker and enacting policies providing protections from the “bad” stuff, there may be more hesitation and questions.

Not everyone is well-informed about the health hazards of secondhand smoke, yet it’s a serious health issue that is impacting workers in our community. People right here in Pocatello and Chubbuck.

Take Judy Barton, who has spent her career working as a manager in a couple of local bars. She doesn’t smoke and never has. But working in smoky bars has taken its toll. Ten years ago, Judy heard the dreaded words, “You have cancer.” Her diagnosis: Stage Three colon cancer. The secondhand smoke had affected her body so much that her physicians even questioned whether Judy was a smoker. When she replied, “No, but I’ve worked in a bar filled with smoke for 25 years,” they told her the effects were basically the same as if she were a smoker herself.

The following statistics back up the claims of Judy’s physicians, confirming that secondhand smoke is a proven health hazard:

  • 69 cancer-causing chemicals and compounds are found in secondhand smoke, including formaldehyde, arsenic, cyanide, and carbon monoxide.
  • 34,000 deaths from heart disease among non-smokers every year are attributed to exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • 7,000 lung cancer deaths annually in otherwise healthy non-smokers are caused by secondhand smoke.
  • Food services workers have a 50 percent greater risk of dying from lung cancer, in part because of exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace.

Secondhand smoke is a verified public health hazard. It contributes to multiple cancers, heart disease, and is a major cause of asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia. For every eight smokers who die as the result of smoking, the life of one non-smoker is lost as a result of being exposed to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in this country.

While most people naturally think of lung cancer as the primary effect of secondhand smoke, there are actually even more deaths to non-smokers from heart disease caused by secondhand smoke every year.

Dr. DeLaRosa, Chief of Cardiac and Endovascular Surgery at Portneuf Medical Center, sees firsthand the effects of both smoking and secondhand smoke on his patients. “In my years working with a variety of patients I have been unfortunate to see the devastation smoking has caused.”

“Since 2006, the Surgeon General’s Report on secondhand smoke concluded that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke,” reports Dr. DeLaRosa.

In addition, Dr. DeLaRosa says, “Short-term exposure of second-hand smoke can potentially increase the risk of heart attacks in people exposed.”

Dr. DeLaRosa notes there is some positive news. “The good news is studies of at least 10 communities, published in peer-reviewed journals, have proven a decrease in heart attack incidence after the implementation of smokefree laws. In Helena, Montana, there was a 40 percent drop in heart attacks among residents while smokefree laws were in place. And in Pueblo, Colorado, heart attack hospitalizations fell by 41 percent after a comprehensive smokefree law was enacted. Even better news is that decrease was sustained over a three-year period.”

Since the 1986 Surgeon General’s Report titled The Health Consequences of Involuntary Smoking stated that secondhand smoke can cause disease in nonsmokers, hundreds of studies have concluded not only this, but that exposure to secondhand smoke can result in death. Over the past 20 years, scientific research has become even clearer.

The 2006 Surgeon General’s Report on The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke confirmed the known health effects of secondhand smoke exposure, including coronary heart disease and lung cancer. The report concluded there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke and establishing smokefree environments is the only proven way to prevent exposure.

The 2010 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report, “How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease,” confirmed that even occasional exposure to secondhand smoke is harmful, and low levels of exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke lead to a rapid and sharp increase in dysfunction and inflammation of the lining of the blood vessels, which are implicated in heart attacks and stroke.

Not only are smokefree laws good health policy, preventing and reducing illness and potentially saving lives, they are also good for business.

Cities with smokefree laws improved revenue or had no impact on business.  Over 150 local businesses and organizations in Idaho — including 55 in the Pocatello area alone, support protecting all of our workers by prohibiting smoking in the workplace.

Gus Winterfeld, New Harmony Pub owner and Smokefree Idaho supporter, said it well:  “Personally, I believe in this effort because smoking is a choice that should never become a burden to anyone else. When you are working in a smoking bar you don’t have a choice! You need a job, but to put your life and health at risk should not be something you have to do!  I value my people and their health. That’s why we are nonsmoking.”

This endorsement also reflects that of voters. Eighty three percent of those polled in Pocatello agree that “All workers in Pocatello should be protected from exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace,” according to a poll conducted of Pocatello voters by Moore Information. In fact, 65 percent favor a local law in Pocatello that would prohibit smoking in ALL indoor public places, including bars, offices and other workplaces. Voters’ support of clean indoor air increases to 70 percent when asked whether the rights of employees and customers to breathe clean indoor air inside any workplace — including bars — is more important than the rights of smokers to smoke or the rights of businesses owners to allow smoking.

Here are some additional numbers worth cheering about:

  • 724 local communities throughout the United States have implemented comprehensive smokefree laws.
  • 165,000 Idahoans are currently protected from exposure to secondhand smoke in all workplaces under local ordinances enacted in Boise and Ketchum.
  • A scientific study of seven different cities conducted in 2004 by the Roswell Park Cancer Institute confirmed that restaurants and bars located in smokefree cities have 82 percent less indoor air pollution than restaurants and bars in cities without smokefree policies.
  • Fewer kids smoke in a city that’s smokefree. One example — local restaurant smoking regulations passed in Massachusetts reduced smoking among youth by 60 percent just two years after implementation of the law.

Here is one more thing we can celebrate right here in Pocatello.  Judy’s experience has made a difference for others. Immediately after she was diagnosed with cancer, her employer, Sandbaggers Bar, made the decision to provide a smokefree work environment for its workers.

Sandbaggers’ owner Brad Burtenshaw said, “When a few customers grumbled, all I needed to say was, ‘Judy has cancer’ and people backed right down and said they were happy to smoke outside and some of them even quit. Of course, we all wish Judy hadn’t gotten cancer, but I am so glad we have had the support of our customers and that we were able to provide a healthier workplace moving forward.” Making a fresh start, Brad even painted and changed the carpets, and his establishment has stayed clean and healthy for workers and patrons alike. Further, he says it has been good for business with more patrons now coming into the bar.

It is clear that comprehensive smokefree laws are critical to protect the health of Idaho workers and anyone who frequents Idaho businesses.

No one should have to choose between a good job and good health, especially since the numbers demonstrate that employers generally stand to potentially gain financially, with an uptick in business as well as with healthier, more productive employees. Hundreds of cities and towns across the country, including Boise and Ketchum, have enacted laws to help make their communities healthier, setting an example for others.

Smokefree Idaho is a coalition whose members include the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association, as well as over 150 Idaho business endorsers. And we all work to support consideration of local smokefree laws to protect workers, residents, and visitors in Pocatello, Chubbuck, and other cities across Idaho. For more information or to get involved with these efforts in your community, visit smokefreeidaho.org or contact me at smokefreeIdaho@gmail.com.