Extend the ban
It took a very long time to convince state lawmakers of the documented hazards of second-hand tobacco smoke. Well after many other states had done so, Pennsylvania adopted a law in 2008 banning smoking in some public places.
Now, the results of bans elsewhere and the partial ban in Pennsylvania should convince lawmakers to lift the exemptions they wrote into the law, mostly under pressure from narrow interests such as casinos and bars.
Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, published a study last year finding that comprehensive smoke-free laws had contributed to a rapid 15 percent decrease in hospitalizations for heart attacks, a 16 percent decrease for strokes and a 24 percent decrease for respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The study also found that the most comprehensive laws produced the greatest health benefits.
Given what is known about second-hand tobacco smoke, those results make sense. In 2006 an exhaustive study by the U.S. surgeon general concluded that "the scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke."
Yet, due largely to exemptions written into the Pennsylvania Clean Indoor Air Act, the American Heart Association estimates that about 858,000 Pennsylvanians continue to be exposed to second-hand smoke.
Much of the exposure occurs in work places. The law exempts truck stops, up to 50 percent of casino floors, many bars depending upon their level of food service and many others.
The Heart Association projects that a comprehensive ban would help 33,800 adults to stop smoking, keep 12,100 children from taking up the addictive habit and reduce smoking-related deaths by 19,900. A ban also would save an estimated $28.14 million a year in heart attack and stroke treatments and $10.4 million a year in lung cancer treatments.
Lawmakers should abandon the narrow interests that were awarded the exemptions and serve the public interest in overall better health by adopting a truly comprehensive ban on second-hand smoke.