Most Americans fail to appreciate the impact of smoking on our health and financial well-being. The Centers for Disease Control tabulates smoking as the No. 1 one preventable killer of Americans every year since the first U.S. Surgeon Generalâ€™s Report in 1964.
The current estimate is that 438,000 of us die each year, about a third each from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other causes such as lung disease, sudden infant death, pneumonia, and other infectious diseases. The amount of additional nonfatal disease and disability is mind-boggling. The annual financial cost of health care and lost productivity was last estimated by the CDC at over $200 billion.
We have also failed to appreciate the importance of the effect of other peopleâ€™s smoking on our health. This has been clarified by a very important report by the Institute of Medicine, a think-tank of some of the greatest minds in medicine, who were delegated by the CDC to estimate the impact of public smoke-free legislation on the heart health of Americans.
They found that study results consistently indicate that exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of coronary heart disease by 25 to 30 percent. There are increased risks even at the lowest levels of exposure.
They reviewed 11 studies looking at the impact of public bans on smoking, each of which showed a reduction in the risk of heart attacks and acute coronary syndromes anywhere from 6 to 47 percent, with benefits conferred to nonsmokers and smokers alike. This would translate to prevention of hundreds of thousands of heart attacks and other acute coronary events each year in this country.
They concluded that data consistently demonstrates that secondhand-smoke exposure increases the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attacks and that smoking bans reduce heart attacks. Given the prevalence of heart attacks, and the resultant deaths, smoking bans can have a substantial impact on public health. The savings, as measured in human lives, is undeniable.
Twenty-eight municipalities in Alabama, including Birmingham, Mountain Brook, Bessemer and Hoover, already have enacted local ordinances further limiting exposure of people in the workplace, in restaurants, and other public places to secondhand smoke. The American Cancer Society has furnished to the state legislature results of a survey indicating that 92 percent of Alabamians agreed that no one should be exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace, and 78 percent favor a law making all workplaces smoke-free.
We feel that it is time for the Alabama House and Senate to pass meaningful legislation protecting us, our families, our patients, and our fellow citizens from this hazard. Please contact your representative by going to www.legislature.state.al.us, and telling them that you support their efforts to improve the health and financial well-being of Alabamians and the state.
To find out what else you can do to help in this fight, go to www.tobaccofreealabama.org.
Phillip L. Laney is president and Michael B. Honan is immediate past president of the Alabama Chapter of the American College of Cardiology.