COMMENTARY: Pass statewide smoke ban in Texas

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(The Monitor – guest columnist Jessica Duncan Cance)  The Texas Legislature is again, for the fifth session in a row, considering a statewide ban on smoking in public places. One of the important concerns is whether this is yet another example of government intrusion. It is not, and Texans will be healthier if a statewide ban passes.

It’s been more than 50 years since the first surgeon general’s report on tobacco and health. Yet, tobacco use, primarily from cigarette smoking, is still the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

Why is this? Are we not talking about the dangers of smoking anymore? You could ask almost anyone if it’s a good thing to smoke cigarettes, and they will say no. (I even asked my 6-year-old son, and he said no.)

Unfortunately, knowledge of the potential harm of cigarette smoking is not enough. Although the prevalence of cigarette smoking has declined dramatically during the past 20 years, the latest data show there were still at least 56 million Americans who were current cigarette smokers in 2013. The prevalence of smoking was highest among adults aged 21-34; about 1 in 3 had smoked a cigarette at least once in the past month.

More than 15 years ago, an expert in public health law established a series of criteria that should be met in order to consider public health regulation. If at any point the answer is no, there should be pause for debate.

Does the behavior demonstrate a significant risk? Absolutely. We have decades of studies supporting the link between cigarette smoking and negative health outcomes.

Is the regulation effective? Yes. Most of this information has focused on the impact of secondhand smoke. Studies have shown that when a ban is enacted, exposure to secondhand smoke decreases. In addition to decreasing the likelihood of nonsmokers being exposed to toxic cigarette smoke, my research has shown that comprehensive indoor smoking bans also decrease the overall prevalence of cigarette smoking. In other words, these bans may help smokers decrease their personal health risk as well.

Are there reasonable economic costs of the regulation compared with the benefits? This is an important concern for Texas. But do smoking bans reduce patronage? A study done in Austin in 2007 showed that revenue stayed stable after the passage of the city’s smoking ban, and the same was shown in El Paso. After Wisconsin passed its statewide indoor smoking ban, bars and restaurants actually showed an increase in revenue.

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