“Not everyone is this state is as fortunate as those who live in a smoke-free city, like many of you,” said Kimberly Hughes, government relations director for the American Cancer Society, one of several groups supporting the Cleaning the Air effort.
About 60 people gathered at the BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo for Wednesday’s forum, the seventh of nine in the state.
A coalition of organizations led by the Mississippi Department of Health is trying to build support for a statewide ban on smoking in public places, especially at work.
“We’re trying to eliminate secondhand smoke in the workplace,” said Langston Moore, executive director of the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, another member of the Smoke Free Mississippi initiative. “We’re fighting for non-smokers and their rights.”
About 35 municipalities, including Tupelo, Mantachie, Corinth, Oxford and Starkville, have passed comprehensive smoke-free ordinances, covering about 20 percent of the state’s population, Hughes said. Another 10 have partial bans.
The Booneville Board of Aldermen initially voted down a smoking ban, said Mayor Joe Eaton, who attended Wednesday’s forum.
“There was such a public response about not passing it, it was reconsidered,” said Eaton. Currently the city has an ordinance prohibiting smoking in restaurants.
“A couple of businesses thought it would hurt them,” Eaton said. “Now, they’ve doubled their business.”
During the forum, health professionals laid out dangers of secondhand smoke, including increased risk of cancer, heart attacks, asthma, respiratory infections, SIDS and low birth-weight babies.
“There are 4,000 identified chemicals in secondhand smoke … 50 are chemicals that we know cause cancer,” said Tupelo pulmonologist Dr. Jim Rish. “Even the briefest exposure can cause heart attacks.”