By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – State health leaders said Thursday the Legislature could take significant action this session at no cost to taxpayers to overcome the fact that Mississippi, according to many indicators, is the most unhealthy state in the nation.
That significant action is passing a statewide law prohibiting smoking in public places, such as restaurants, said state Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier and Dr. Steve Demetropoulos, president of the Mississippi Medical Association.
Demetropoulos and Currier, along with other medical providers, held a news conference at the state Capitol to highlight the annual state Public Health Report Card that detailed Mississippi’s poor health outcomes, including being worst in cardiovascular disease deaths, worst in diabetes, worst in physician access, worst in obesity and among the worst in cancer deaths.
They used the report card as an opportunity to promote smoke-free legislation.
Demetropoulos and Currier said, that while to get off the bottom in many categories would be costly, smoke-free legislation would have immediate results.
Smoke-free legislation is “the single most effective policy change that is guaranteed to improve the health of all Mississippians,” said Demetropoulos, a Pascagoula emergency room physician.
“It might even get us off the bottom” as far as cardiovascular deaths, agreed Currier.
During a hearing before the Senate Public Health Committee on the issue, Demetropoulos and others pointed out studies that detailed the dangers of secondhand smoke and others that showed reduced rates of heart disease in Mississippi cities that initiate smoke-free policies, according to information compiled by the Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center. Robert McMillen of the center, also cited polls that showed support of more than 70 percent of Mississippians for such a law.
Currently, there are 68 smoke-free cities in the state, including many in Northeast Mississippi, such as Tupelo, Amory, New Albany, Booneville and Corinth.
But they said the whole state would never be covered by smoke-free laws unless the Legislature acts.
“We think our rural citizens have a right to smoke-free air as well,” said Currier.
In past years, the Legislature has been hesitant to act because key members have reasoned that property owners should be able to decide whether to make their businesses smoke-free.
Plus, the powerful casino lobby has opposed the legislation.
During the Public Health Committee meeting Thursday, Demetropoulos indicated that the Smokefree coalition would be willing to make “accommodations” with the casino industry “to get 97 percent of the state covered.”