Legislators told smoking ban could have quick results

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Studies show that people suffer fewer heart attacks if they live in jurisdictions that have enacted smoking bans in public places, health care advocates told legislators Wednesday.
Two of those studies were conducted in Mississippi – one in Hattiesburg and one in Starkville.
The House and Senate Public Health committees held a public hearing Wednesday on legislation that would impose such a ban statewide.
“With a stroke of a pen, with a statewide policy, we could affect a lot of people’s lives,” state Health Officer Mary Currier said at the joint hearing at the Mississippi Capitol.
Currier said the U.S. surgeon general has found that secondary smoke – even in small amounts – can be dangerous. For instance, secondhand smoke can result in more instances of heart disease and respiratory problems, especially in children.
Currier said the reports are “not opinion. These are fact-based.”
Mike Cashion, executive director of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association, said he too agrees smoking is dangerous, but said business owners should have the “right to choose what type of environment they want to operate in.”
Cashion was the only person at the hearing, which drew about 100 people, to speak against the smoking ban.
Terry Pechacek, associate director for science in the office of smoking and health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, told legislators the surgeon general’s report, which he helped write, “concludes that eliminating smoking in indoor spaces is the only way to fully protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke.”
He said the positive results from smoking bans in public venues “occur within months.”
Robert McMillen, an assistant professor with Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center and with the Department of Psychology, said the number of heart attack admissions to local hospitals dropped 27.7 percent for Starkville residents from the three years before the city put in a smoking ban to the three years after.
The reduction was 14.8 percent for those who live near the municipality.
In Hattiesburg, for the same time period, the reduction was 13.4 percent for residents and 3.8 percent for those who live near the town.
McMillen said the results were consistent with studies done in other locations.
He also said his research indicated that sales tax revenue did not drop because of the smoking ban, as many opponents claim. Cashion told the legislators other studies do reflect a drop in revenue.
Senate Public Health Chair Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said he anticipates considering the controversial legislation in his committee in “the next couple of weeks.” If it passes the Senate, it would be considered in the House.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.

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