By AILEEN CHARLESTON, The Mirror
Washington state residents have experienced smoke-free environments every time they visit their favorite bar, restaurant or public facility since Initiative 901 took effect Dec. 8, 2005.
What is believed to be the strictest smoking ban in the country has slowly taken on a life of its own.
In some states such as New York, the ban on smoking has been related to a decrease in the number of admissions to hospitals for heart attacks, according to Reuters Health. In Italy, there was an 11.2 percent reduction of acute coronary events for individuals between 35 and 64 years old since a smoking ban was enforced five years ago in Rome, according to the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Francesca Fabile, communications and marketing director of the American Heart Association, said the Washington State Department of Health is collecting data on any correlation between the smoking ban and recent health improvements, but claims that at the moment, no actual facts exist regarding that matter.
Gale Robinette, media relations manager for St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way, said it is too early to see any decline in the hospital’s admissions related to the smoking ban. For many years, the hospital has been a major advocate in promoting a smoke-free life among its patients, he said.
Scientists, grass-roots organizations and lawmakers around the country were convinced that by prohibiting smoking in public areas, they would help clean the environment, push people away from smoking and prevent others from secondhand smoke exposure.
Despite the state’s effort to reduce the smoking rate among men and women, the rate had only dropped
0.6 percent in 2007 since the smoking ban was established in 2005, when the rate was 17.6 percent, said Carrie Glover, Washington state grass-roots manager for the American Cancer Society.
“Part of why the rate hasn’t dropped is because many smokers come from the desperate or low-income parts of the population,” Glover said. “Our efforts have now turned to focus on providing Medicaid cessation programs that are just waiting for the governor’s signature to be approved,” she said.
As a consequence of the smoking ban, most smokers must now smoke outside of the bars or restaurants they visit. The law requires not to smoke within 25 feet of doors.
Glover said there’s still an issue over having people smoke outside because of its effect on people passing by.
Jeff Mason, owner of the Brick Yard Pub in Federal Way, said although his business has not suffered much since the smoking ban was established, he now gets complaints about people who are smoking on the sidewalks.
The pub stands next to a grocery store and several other shops.
“I can’t control people smoking outside of my property,” Mason said. “I don’t own the sidewalks.”
Before the smoking ban, people had a choice of whether to enter an establishment and expose themselves to secondhand smoking, he said.
“I feel like the issue has nothing to do with smoking. It’s just one more way of having our government chip away our civil liberties one piece at a time,” Mason said. “Unfortunately, the ones that will have it harder are the younger generations.”
Carl Nelson, owner of the Stars Pub and Grill in Federal Way, said that when the smoking ban was first introduced, his business was hurt badly.
“I don’t smoke myself, but as a business owner, it’s a hard decision,” Nelson said. “After the ban, business dropped a total of 30 percent. We got some back, but at the time it was a very serious drop for a small operation like ours.”
Amy Dunaway, who works as a bartender at Johnny’s Famous Grill and Bar in Federal Way, was not sure that business had completely returned to normal after the smoking ban, but said that more people are getting used to it.
“It affected us really badly at the beginning, but most people who still want to smoke do it in their house or go to the casinos inside the Indian reservations, which are only 6 miles away from here,” Dunaway said.
Trying to quit
The smoking ban has influenced many smokers to quit, while others still step outside and light a cigarette.
A group of three smokers calmly puffing outside of a local bar in Federal Way were reluctant to have their names published because now, more than ever, they feared for their public image.
They all agreed, however, that the smoking ban was necessary and that they actually liked getting a glimpse of fresh air every time they had a smoke.
“I’m trying to quit,” said one woman in the group. “It’s just too hard.”
“The smoking ban is something we know works,” said Scott Neal, program manager of the King County Tobacco Prevention Program.
“We hear it all the time — smokers trying to quit since the smoking ban,” he said. “The less it is OK for people to smoke, the more that will quit.”
Even though most smokers understand the negative effects smoking and secondhand smoking have on people’s health, and the diseases smoking can lead to (coronary heart disease, lung cancer, acute stroke, nasal sinus cancer), less than 10 percent of smokers actually become successful quitters.
“It takes the average smoker about seven to 10 times to be able to quit,” Neal said. “It’s a small number, but it’s getting better from time to time.”
There are 34 states in the U.S. that have cities with some type of smoking ban established.
The situation has drastically improved from what it was almost 40 years ago, where according to the American Cancer Association, 42 percent of the population smoked in 1965, as opposed to 25 percent who smoked in 2005.
Cigarette smoking has for a number of years been referred to as “the leading preventable cause of disease and deaths in the United States” by the Surgeon General.
Laws that ban smoking make it tougher to light a cigarette. As stated by Scott Neal, the new wave is the banning of smoking in multi-unit housing buildings.
“Many landlords and tenants want to avoid smoke from filtering through their walls and, therefore, are deciding to go smoke-free,” Neal said.
Recently in Washington state, House Bill 2519, which prohibits smoking in vehicles containing children, has been passed to the rules committee for a second reading.
This bill would ban smoking in cars containing passengers who are under 18 years old.
“Our smoking ban is one of the strictest in the nation; I don’t think it needs to get any stricter,” Neal said.
“The key is to keep training people to never stop trying to quit, and teaching them that the best thing they could do for their health is to stop smoking, no matter what age,” he said.
Contact Aileen Charleston: firstname.lastname@example.org
Check it out:
The Freedom From Tobacco Support Group that meets at St. Joseph Medical Center is an important local resource for people who have stopped smoking, or who want to stop smoking and/or using tobacco products. The support group is open to everyone, free of charge. It meets at 7 p.m. every Thursday in dining rooms 1 and 2 at St. Joseph Medical Center, 1717 S. J St., Tacoma. To learn more, call (253) 426-6746.
Also visit www.americanheart.org and www.cancer.org for resources and information about the risks of smoking and effective ways to quit.