Going Smoke Free

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THE COURIER-JOURNAL | RICHARD HEINE | FEBRUARY 22, 2015

It is no secret that Kentucky is among the unhealthiest states in our country.

Kentucky is No. 7 in cardiovascular deaths, No. 1 in cancer deaths, No. 1 in lung cancer, and No. 13 in asthma prevalence. And Kentucky leads the nation in smoking with 26.5 percent of its adult population.

Even non-smokers are at risk of diseases caused by tobacco. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of coronary heart disease by about 25 to 30 percent among non-smokers. It increases the risk of lung cancer in nonsmokers by 20 to 30 percent.

This means that waitresses and bartenders (most of whom do not smoke) in workplaces that allow smoking risk their lives just to earn a paycheck. Sadly 68 percent of Kentuckians are currently exposed to secondhand smoke in public places. At this rate it is no wonder that Kentuckians suffer serious and deadly consequences.

Fortunately, we have scientific evidence that a smoke-free law will reduce disease rates in areas where such a law is in effect. Communities that pass comprehensivesmoke-free workplace laws have experienced a 15 percent drop in emergency room visits for heart attacks. Emergency room visits for asthma dropped by 22 percent in Lexington after the smoke-free law was enacted.

Also, adult smoking rates declined by 32 percent in Lexington, saving $21 million per year in healthcare costs! While a decrease in smoking rates is not the primary reason for second hand smoke-free laws, many people express an interest in stopping, and the laws make quitting easier.

Our poor health is a problem that affects us all. It affects our health care costs, our community health, and a national perception of us as being an unhealthy place to invest in and live. That problem can be addressed by smoke-free local ordinances, a state law, or local boards of health regulations.

The Affordable Care Act presents a unique opportunity to look at health differently. We need to start emphasizing prevention of diseases rather than relying only on treatment. Smoke-free policy is one effective type of prevention. We know that prevention will save lives and reduce health care costs borne by individuals, private business and the government.

The Saving Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) conference in Eastern Kentucky reminded us that Kentucky can do better. Going smoke-free is one way that Kentucky can do better. Imagine a Kentucky where no one is exposed to smoke in the workplace and where fewer people actually smoke. Lives would be saved, diseases would be prevented, and health care costs would decrease.

Thankfully, most Kentuckians agree. Statewide polls show that 66 percent of likely voters are in favor of a smoke-free law. This makes sense since most Kentuckians do not smoke. It is time for the state legislature to implement a policy that will improve our health, save lives and reduce health costs.

The Friedell Committee for Health System Transformation is an organization of community leaders across the state that knows that Kentucky is not a healthy state but that working together we can do something about it.

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