I am a native Virginian and proud of my heritage. I remember as a small boy visiting the warehouses where flue-cured tobacco was auctioned to the major companies for processing into cigarettes. John Rolfe, a young man from Jamestown, was the first colonist to grow tobacco in America. He secured the initial seeds from Trinidad and in 1612 produced his first crop.
Today, after years of research, we know the deadly impact of tobacco. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S. Smoking kills over 480,000 Americans each year, with more than 41,000 of these deaths resulting from second-hand exposure. Smoking-related diseases cost more than $289 billion annually, with $133 billion in direct medical care and $156 billion in lost productivity. Based on 2012 surveys, over 18 percent of adults smoke cigarettes.
Today, we hear political leaders debate insurance exchanges and coverage expansion. We should all agree, however, that the use of tobacco is a dangerous healthcare problem. While individual rights should be respected, smoking in public places where others are exposed to second-hand smoke is clearly wrong.
In 2003, members of the Dallas City Council made a forward-thinking decision to ban smoking in all restaurants in the city. According to Douglas Dunsavage, public advocacy director for the American Heart Association in North Texas, “At that time, Dallas was the leader of the pack.” By 2009, smoking in Dallas was prohibited in all public places including taverns and bars.
We need all North Texas cities to follow suit and immediately pass local ordinances banning smoking in public places. You would be surprised how many local cities, including Fort Worth, Irving, Addison and Richardson, have no such laws. Statistics show that restaurants do not suffer negative financial impacts from non-smoking ordinances. Accordingly, we need to contact our mayors and city council members and insist the population’s health far outweighs any other consideration.
Together, we can end this serious public health problem by safeguarding others from second-hand smoke. It’s the right thing to do for our fellow citizens.
Steve Love is president and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, which promotes collaboration, cooperation, and advocacy on behalf of its 75 member hospitals.