By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Smokers soon will have one less place to puff: Mississippi youth sporting events.
Legislation passed during the 2010 session, recently signed into law by Gov. Haley Barbour, prohibits smoking within 100 feet of a facility where people under age 18 are participating in athletic events.
It also would prohibit smoking at any indoor youth sporting events.
The bill spells out penalties for those who violate the new law, which takes effect July 1.
The first offense will result in a warning while a second violation would result in a $75 fine. Fines for ensuing violations are not to exceed $150.
Groups in charge of the sports venue could post no-smoking signs and could take action to remove those who violate the smoking ban.
The bill does allow a designated smoking area “separate from the fields of activity” to be established.
The bill says, “It is the responsibility of all law enforcement officers and law enforcement agencies of this state to ensure that the provisions … are enforced.”
Roy Hart, director of the Office of Tobacco Control at the Mississippi State Department of Health, said the legislation is “a step in the right direction.” He said statistics indicate 550 Mississippians die each year from secondhand smoke.
“However, a comprehensive tobacco-free policy that includes spit tobacco would be even more effective,” Hart said.
Senate Public Health Committee Chair Hob Bryan, D-Amory, the primary author of the legislation, agrees.
Bryan said not enough legislators would back the legislation with provisions that cover chewing tobacco and other smokeless tobacco products.
“I continue to be disturbed about the increased use of chewing tobacco and other tobacco products,” Bryan said. “I think that is where tobacco companies are really marketing to young people now.
“I sure think we need a strong effort to dissuade the use of those other products.”
Still, Bryan said he believes the new bill will serve a positive purpose.
Not only is the issue of second-hand smoke a concern, he said, the wrong message is being sent to youths by allowing adults to smoke at the events.
“I think what we have learned over the years is that tobacco products are marketed to young people as giving them an air of sophistication. That is designed to make smoking appealing,” Bryan said.
“We now know nicotine is terribly addictive. I think one of the main things we can do is try to get out another point of view” other than the air of sophistication that has been marketed.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.