By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Mississippians will have an opportunity to sign a petition in support of a statewide ban on smoking in public places, such as restaurants, bars and casinos.
The Mississippi State Medical Association, a professional organization for many of the state’s physicians, announced the petition drive Thursday during a news conference at a Jackson hotel.
Steve Demetropoulos, a Pascagoula doctor and past president of the association, said the petition will be presented to the 2015 Legislature with the hope that lawmakers will put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide.
“If we want to improve the health of Mississippians, this is the easiest way to do it,” Demetropoulos said.
The petition drive is supported by the American Cancer Society and other groups. But many of those groups indicated they hope the petition itself will convince legislators to pass a law enacting a statewide smoking ban without requiring a referendum.
Robert Wah, president of the American Medical Association, attended the news conference, and said, “The AMA encourages Mississippi residents seeking protection from the dangers of secondhand smoke to lend their voices to this effort and tell state lawmakers they choose a smoke-free Mississippi.”
While Wah is not a Mississippian, he was the first person to sign the petition at Thursday’s news conference.
Attempts in recent years to pass a statewide smoking ban in the Legislature have been unsuccessful primarily because of efforts of groups representing the restaurant, beverage and casino interests.
But it was pointed out Thursday that Mississippi is a leader in terms of local communities enacting smoking bans. More than 80 cities have enacted such bans, but that represents only 25 percent of the state’s population. And because of the rural nature of the state, if all municipalities enacted the bans, less than half of Mississippi’s population would be covered.
“I would say the good people in rural areas are as entitled to smoke-free (protection) as much as the people in the urban areas,” Demetropoulos said.
He said polls have shown overwhelming support for a statewide ban even among smokers, and he said studies have demonstrated that the ban does not negatively impact the economy or restaurants and other businesses. And he said studies also indicated near immediate positive health outcomes from smoking bans.
The petitions will be placed in medical offices and distributed by other groups.