If you could save someone, even a stranger, from a cancer diagnosis and possible death, would you?
If able to spare thousands of fellow Pennsylvanians the agony and uncertainty of combating the disease, and of undergoing expensive and uncomfortable treatments, would you seize that opportunity?
Of course. So why haven’t our elected officials yet done so?
Keystone State lawmakers have the ability to protect and prolong people’s lives, and they should do it by finally expanding the state’s ban on workplace smoking — closing loopholes that never should have been punched into the state’s 2008 Clean Indoor Air Act. The law forbids smoking in all non-hospitality workplaces, but allows exemptions for bars, casinos and enclosed bar areas of certain restaurants.
Sheesh, given what we know today about secondhand smoke, why would any responsible business expose its workers to this ticking time bomb? Lung and throat cancers aren’t the only concerns. The risk of heart disease increases by 25 to 30 percent for adults with long-term exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The old excuse that smoking bans would bury certain businesses, including Luzerne County taverns, because their customer bases would evaporate simply doesn’t hold up. Statewide bans making all restaurants and bars smoke-free have been enacted in 28 states, including almost all of Pennsylvania’s neighbors: Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Ohio. Multiple studies suggest the economic impacts of a smoking ban on eating and drinking establishments are not crippling, and seldom cited as the cause for a place going belly-up.
By contrast, the dollar-and-cents cost to society of continuing to permit smoking in some public places does add up: One estimate cited by the American Cancer Society says an all-out ban in Pennsylvania would save an estimated $38.5 million in health care costs within five years.
CVS, the nation’s second-largest drugstore chain, last week announced that it would cease tobacco sales in its stores by Oct. 1, prompting discussions about the responsibility of pharmacies and others in stamping out the addictive behavior. Some health experts have become increasingly optimistic lately, foreseeing a possible decline in adult smoking rates over the next decade to 10 percent, The Associated Press recently reported.
State lawmakers, including those in its Luzerne County contingent, should seize on this momentum. Speak up on behalf of public health legislation like that proposed last summer by state Rep. Mario Scavello, a Monroe County Republican. His proposal — of which state Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston, is a co-sponsor — would end the exemption for nearly 3,000 establishments that continue to permit smoking.
Sadly, Luzerne County traditionally trails on matters of healthy living. Smoking rates for adults here remain stubbornly high in most surveys, exceeding state and national averages. County officials famously banned smoking in the courthouse in 1994, then rescinded the ban in 1996 for the building’s cafeteria, where nonsmoking workers and visitors were subjected to the fumes.
Officials didn’t outlaw smoking in the basement cafeteria for nearly another decade, until November 2007.
For those and other reasons, more state lawmakers from this region should push to ensure Pennsylvania doesn’t remain in a time warp regarding its smoking laws. Expand the ban.