Advocates: Mississippi needs to clear the air

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Smoke-free air advocates hope Mississippi’s poor report card spurs action in the state Legislature.
The American Lung Association gave Mississippi failing grades in tobacco control program spending, cigarette tax rate, smoke-free air laws and insurance coverage for tobacco cessation.
“We’ve made great strides over the past few years, but we haven’t kept pace with the rest of the nation,” said K.C. Grist, campaign director for Smokefree Mississippi.
Five other states failed in all four areas: Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Only four states received all passing grades: Delaware, Hawaii, Maine and Oklahoma. No state made straight A’s.
Mississippi didn’t get partial credit for the 49 municipalities that have enacted smoke-free ordinances including Starkville, Tupelo, Mantachie, Oxford, Aberdeen, Amory, Corinth, Ecru, Pontotoc, Calhoun City and New Albany. Those cities cover 22 percent of Mississippi’s population and include more than 50 percent of the state’s restaurants.
Smokefree Mississippi is again advocating for comprehensive legislation that covers all public indoor workplaces. Secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in nonsmokers. It aggravates respiratory disease like asthma. It can impact the health of infants and children. A number of studies, including analysis done for Starkville and Hattiesburg, show a decrease in the number of heart attacks in communities that have enacted comprehensive smoke-free ordinances.
“This is something that could be really positive for Mississippi,” Grist said.
Tupelo has seen hospitality and sales tax revenue grow in the years since the smoke-free ordinance was passed, said City Council President Fred Pitts.
“We’re still getting more and more hotels, more and more restaurants,” Pitts said. “Most of the major growth areas in the state have gone smoke-free.”
michaela.morris@journalinc.com