In the last few years, state and city lawmakers have been on the offense in the fight against smoking. Across America, the ban on tobacco use in bars and restaurants is changing more than just the way people dine out. “The purpose of smoking bans in public places is to limit the exposure of non-smokers to secondhand smoke,” says Armand E. Sabitoni, LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer. “So far, the evidence shows that smoking bans enhance overall community health.”

Currently, 24 states have statewide bans that restrict smoking in public places such as bars, restaurants and hospitals. Many cities, including the District of Columbia, enforce their own anti-smoking laws. In Belmont, California, lighting up is against the law in apartment buildings; other cities and housing groups are exploring or implementing similar rules.

Researchers are conducting ongoing studies on the effects of these bans. In Pueblo, Colorado, a study concluded that three years after a workplace ban on smoking took effect, hospitalized heart attack cases dropped 41 percent. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a similar study and found a sharp decline in heart attacks in Boston and other cities as a result of a smoking ban enacted in 2004.

Though the benefits of smoke-free environments are evident in the studies, smoking bans are not without their critics. Opposition mostly comes in two forms: those who feel that a smoking ban will further hurt the economy and local businesses and those who feel the ban infringes on their civil rights. Attempts to ban smoking in several states failed, and some bans made exceptions for bars and casinos.

In spite of the opposition, no one is denying the health risks associated with tobacco use. According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke is responsible for nearly 50,000 deaths every year amongst adult non-smokers in the United States. Non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at work (e.g., bartenders and wait staff) inhale smoke at a rate that is two to five times higher than if they lived with smokers. In addition, the detrimental effects of smoke are still being discovered. A recent British study in the BMJ found cognitive impairments amongst former smokers and participants who were exposed to secondhand smoke.

The ban also combats a new hazard, coined by the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children as “third-hand smoke.” It suggests that smoke inhabits its surroundings (e.g., clothes, cars, carpets) and still exposes others to smoke – sometimes even when the smoker is not present. Researchers at the hospital found even this indirect exposure to smoke dangerous for children. “When you smoke – anyplace – toxic particulate matter from tobacco smoke gets into your hair and clothing,” says Jonathan Winickoff, MD, MPH, lead study author and assistant director of the hospital’s Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy. “When you come into contact with your baby, even if you’re not smoking at the time, she comes in contact with those toxins. And if you breastfeed, the toxins will transfer to your baby in your breastmilk.”

“When a person smokes, he or she puts everyone around them at risk,” notes Sabitoni. “That’s why our Fund, from its inception, has consistently encouraged smoking cessation. Laborers who quit improve their overall health and their ability to work – not to mention the health and well-being of their loved ones. By giving up tobacco, they also save money for their health and welfare funds in the long run.” 

The LHSFNA offers numerous materials to help, including videos, health alerts, pamphlets and, most recently, four anti-tobacco posters. For more information, contact the Health Promotion Division at (202) 628-5465 or browse the online catalogue.

[Jennifer E. Jones]