Column/Selma council should consider smoking ban

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 10, 2007

Lauren Hart doesn’t look much like an activist, but the pretty, blonde-haired University of Alabama senior is exactly that.

Hart, 23, has been talking to pretty much everyone who will listen (and some who don’t want to) about the dangers of smoking, and, specifically, the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, which, according to a recently released surgeon general’s report, kills nearly 50,000 non-smokers every year.

Hart’s motivation to warn people of the risks involved with smoking and secondhand smoke came from literally watching her grandfather, who died in 2004 from lung cancer, take his last breath. He was 73.

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“His breathing had slowed. Each inhale and exhale was audible,” she said in a story published recently in The Tuscaloosa News. “After his final breath, he opened his eyes, looked at the family gathered around his bed, closed his eyes and was gone. It was 4 a.m.”

Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona says “The science is clear, secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance but a serious health hazard that causes premature death and disease in children and non-smoking adults.”

Carmona has called for a ban on smoking in public buildings, noting that even a brief encounter with cigarette smoke is harmful. The full surgeon general’s report can be found on the Center for Disease Control’s web site at

While much of Carmona’s report focused on health risks to restaurant workers, the group least likely to be protected by smoke-free policies, he also outlined the risks to children.

“Because their bodies are still developing, infants and children are especially vulnerable to the poisons in secondhand smoke,” he said, pointing out that secondhand smoke has been linked to respiratory infections and sudden infant death syndrome.

Dr. Alan Blum, director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society at the University of Alabama, said Carmona’s report is sure to spur a flood of new laws forbidding smoking in public places.

“It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s just a matter of ‘when,'” he said. “And arguments against are going by the wayside.”

I agree with him. I learned to dislike smoking at an early age when a friend of mine and I smoked four packs of cigarettes in the span of two hours. It left an indelible impression on me, not to mention a few burn holes in my new blue jeans. This was long before the health hazards of smoking were public knowledge and before it was discovered that the tobacco companies were in collusion to kill people through use of their products. Reference the 1994 Congressional hearings where executives from America’s major tobacco companies openly lied to Congress about nicotine being addictive.

I had grown up watching my mother smoke a pack-a-day of menthol Kools (thank goodness she finally quit after 30 years) and thought the Marlboro Man was cool riding his trusty steed, puffing a cancer stick while he tended the herd. Besides, John Wayne, the most macho actor who has ever lived, smoked so it must be okay, right? Wayne, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1964 and eventually died from his five pack-a-day habit in 1979 probably thought smoking was cool too, until it killed him.

Currently, there are 14 states and more than 400 towns, cities and counties that have passed nonsmoking laws. In Alabama, approximately 27 cities have passed smoking ordinances since 2003. Selma needs to be added to that growing list because a non-smoker’s exposure to secondhand smoke is not just a mere annoyance anymore. It’s a threat to public safety and, as the surgeon general’s report points out, “a serious public health hazard” and “a major cause of disease, including lung cancer and coronary heart disease, in healthy nonsmokers.”

The mayor and city council have the responsibility of protecting its citizens from harm, and, as Carmona states, involuntarily inhaling toxic fumes from a cigarette or from a smoker’s lungs can kill you. More than 50 carcinogens (cancer causing materials) have been identified in secondhand smoke and while the surgeon general’s report states that exposure to secondhand smoke has fallen; it’s still incumbent on our local representatives to take the proactive measure of addressing such an issue to keep current and future generations safe from the deadly toxins emitted from secondhand smoke.

I would encourage the council to study what other communities have done in enacting all encompassing or limited smoking ordinances, the effect it has had on retail development (I expect none, and one report actually showed restaurant revenues increased) and how difficult enforcement of such an ordinance has been.

The public then needs to be made aware of such findings in a public forum, such as this newspaper, and give time for public input before finalizing a plan, which I would hope would be an ordinance that allows the general public to be safe from the harmful affects of secondhand smoke.

As the surgeon general’s report proves, to do nothing would be negligent of their duties to protect the citizens they serve.

While such an ordinance may be unpopular to some, the long-term affects such a law would have on the children of this community far outweighs the short-term discomfort council members may experience in enacting one.

Dennis Palmer is publisher of The Selma Times-Journal. He can be reached at 410-1712, or by email: .