By State Reps. Walt Bivins and Jill Schupp

Missouri is well behind the curve in adopting smoke-free standards for public places. In locales throughout the state, we are subjecting real people – customers, workers, children and people with breathing diseases to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

People have the right to breathe clean indoor air. They should be able to eat at restaurants and go into public buildings without being exposed to the serious health dangers of secondhand smoke.

A typical “non-smoker” who works in a smoky restaurant inhales almost an entire pack of cigarettes during just one eight-hour shift. Secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals and is estimated to cause over 30,000 deaths every year. Missourians alone spend $119 million on health care costs associated with secondhand smoke.

According to a 2004 U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) report: “…people at risk for heart disease should avoid all indoor places that allow smoking because short-term exposure to secondhand smoke creates an increased risk of heart attacks.”

Elimination of secondhand smoke exposure in public places is a matter of common sense and necessary to protect public health. The 2006 Surgeon General’s Report on Involuntary Smoking stated that there is no “risk-free” level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Furthermore, we learn that air cleaning and ventilation systems cannot eliminate all of the chemical exposure risks caused by secondhand smoke. The only way to stop exposure to deadly secondhand smoke is to end smoking in public places.

Missouri has begun to consider a smoke-free in public areas proposal. As word of this proposal has been gaining attention, employees are reaching out to tell their stories. One single mother, a casino employee, is imploring us to follow up and keep fighting to make her workplace smoke-free:

“Thank you for fighting for us. I'm a casino dealer. I'm also a single mom. I feel like I have to sacrifice my later years of life with my child and those joys, so that I can support him now. As a dealer we cannot wave the smoke from our face, ask the smoker to hold the cigarette back, or even move our heads to find air because it may offend the smoker.

My casino allows cigars, I've been made sick by them several times…We don't get an occasional cigarette in the face, we get it most of our day. More than one at a time, and several are chain smokers.

I'm not saying people don't have the right to smoke, I just think that I should have the right to perform my job and breathe at the same time. Please keep fighting and thank you!”

Missouri’s smoke-free proposal is designed to keep one person’s decision to smoke from interfering with other people’s health.

A comprehensive smoke-free public proposal is a public health issue. Just as food handling, plumbing, and traffic regulations are in place to support the public good, regulations for smoke-free public areas are a public service.

Over a decade ago when California became the first state to require bars and restaurants to go smoke-free, it was considered a novelty. Today, about half of the states have enacted such restrictions. Missouri’s most populous cities: Kansas City, Springfield, Columbia, St. Louis, and St. Louis County all have ordinances in place. Most Missourians already live in areas where smoking isn’t allowed in public places. Undoubtedly, we are ready for smoke-free public places. With the public health risks of secondhand smoke, nothing will be gained by further delaying the inevitable.

For the health and well-being of the people of Missouri, the time has come for a single statewide smoke-free law to protect our citizens from the serious health hazards of secondhand smoke.
Bivins is a state representative (R-District 97). Schupp is a state representative (D-District 82).
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