No smoking means no smoking, period

December 26, 2000|By Jack Henningfield

The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us.-- Theodore Roosevelt

THE Montgomery County Council recently took a bold step to protect the health of Maryland's citizens and visitors by approving an ordinance that will reprimand anyone who smokes or discards tobacco products on sidewalks, lawns or other areas of Friendship Heights.

The council understands its obligation to protect citizens from hazardous conditions. This is a critical action toward reducing death and disease caused by smoking and is no less meaningful than attempting to get the cocaine out of crack-infested areas.

Over the past 40 years, the tobacco industry has pervaded our communities and woven into our societal fabric that smoking is acceptable and the "thing to do." It sends an unfortunate message to children that smoking is a desirable form of pleasure and self-expression -- a subtle message that can undercut educational efforts about the dangers of smoking.

The approach in Friendship Heights does not prohibit adults from buying and using tobacco, but it does take a step toward reducing Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) and tobacco product litter. Just as important, this far-reaching measure will reduce this type of informal but powerful advertising to children that smoking is a pleasurable activity to which they might aspire.

Friendship Heights' smoking ordinance is the most extensive in the nation because the community understands the dangerous hazards associated with smoking and is reaching out to protect its children and adults alike. The Americans for Non-Smokers' Rights has concluded that secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in this country, killing 53,000 non-smokers each year; that is nearly three times the number of people killed by drunken driving in 1998. The council has chosen a sound public health policy for the citizens of Friendship Heights instead of siding with the tobacco industry's political influence and propaganda.

Now that we know the health hazards involved in smoking and its effects on others, it's time to accommodate the solution, not the problem. In this case, the solution is getting smoking out of public places to protect the health of everyone. Simple separation of smokers and non-smokers within the same airspace does not eliminate the risk of exposure to ETS. This ordinance will ensure that people will be discouraged from smoking in public and ultimately from poisoning our community with their smoke and tobacco debris.

The County Council's positive vote extends the Friendship Heights ban on outdoor smoking beyond enclosed public spaces such as stadiums, beaches or parks. A smoke-free society is what every citizen is entitled to, and, for far too long, our communities and children have been tainted by tobacco's ill effects.

Friendship Heights is an example of how refined scientific data about the dangers inherent in tobacco products can impact public policy for the betterment of our community. The more information we unearth about the harmful side effects of tobacco smoke, the less we want to be forcibly exposed to it.

Only the tobacco industry loses if smoking is prohibited in public places. That's why it spends millions of dollars to block local ordinances and dupe individuals into believing that ordinances like this infringe on privacy rights and lead to lost profits within the community. The tobacco industry is not interested in a healthy community; it's interested in maintaining the status quo.

Friendship Heights is paving a new road toward protecting the health of all of its residents and visitors. Moreover, it understands that by eliminating the lure of tobacco products, it will help foster healthy lives for our children. We must applaud the community but caution citizens to beware of the tobacco industry's deceptive ploys and propaganda issued by duplicitous tobacco wholesaler lobbyists and their like. Don't let the tobacco industry dictate public health policies in Friendship Heights and, ultimately, our great state. Working together, we can create a safer public environment for everyone.

Jack Henningfield, vice president for research and health policy at Pinney Associates in Bethesda, is associate professor of behavioral biology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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