A Good Year St. Louis
6:35 am
Thu December 29, 2011

Tobacco expert: 2011 good year "overall" for non-smokers

Smoking bans were implemented in several areas in St. Louis in 2011, including in the city and county.

Sarah Shelton, a data analyst with the Center for Tobacco Policy Research at Washington University in St. Louis, told St. Louis Public Radio’s Julie Bierach as part of our series “A Good Year” that, overall, it’s been a good year for non-smokers.

“The majority of non-smokers are protected. I think, in particular, people living in Brentwood and Creve Coeur, it’s been better for them. I think that we have some progress to make to make sure that next year is an even better year for all non-smokers in St. Louis.”

Here's a summary of that conversation:

How important are smoking bans to safeguarding public health?

Smoke-free laws really are essential to protecting the public’s health. Secondhand smoke exposure has been linked with cancer, heart disease, respiratory illnesses of all different kinds in non-smokers, and it’s considered the leading cause of indoor air pollution. Comprehensive smoke-free policies protect the public from all the toxins that are in secondhand smoke.

One of the things in particular that is a good outcome of smoke-free policies is a reduction in heart attacks, which is important because heart attacks are the leading cause of death in the United States. According to an Institute for Medicine report, there is a causal relationship between exposure to secondhand smoke and increase risk of coronary heart disease among both men and women. That same report also concluded that there is a causal association between smoke-free laws and decreases in heart attacks in the communities where those laws are implemented.

Smoke-free policies also encourage smokers to quit and also prevent kids from even starting.

How active has the Center for Tobacco Policy Research been in lobbying for these bans, encouraging municipalities to ban smoking in public places?

As a Center, our main purpose is to do research and evaluation around the topic. We don’t necessarily go out and advocate or lobby for a particular ordinance or particular laws that are up for adoption.

I imagine that as someone who analyzes the data and researches tobacco use you would say there is more to be done?

Absolutely. The laws that went into effect in January in the county and city are not comprehensive. They do exclude fair amounts of people from being protected from secondhand smoke, in particular, at casinos and bars. So there are people who visit casinos and bars, who work in casinos and bars for long hours, day after day, who are currently not protected by those policies. And there are a few municipalities within St. Louis County, in particular, that have gone above and beyond over the past year. Brentwood and Creve Coeur both passed strong, comprehensive policies that are stronger than the county ordinance.

Do you think that as the months go by and it becomes more evident how smoking bans impact businesses, do you think more municipalities and counties will take the initiative and not be so afraid to ban smoking?

Absolutely. Last year Clayton implemented a strong comprehensive smoke-free policy and they’ve been very vocal about how it has not impacted business. In fact, some business owners and community members believe that it has brought more business into their area. So, as we see more examples of where the sky does not fall, then I think people will be more and more likely to move forward with it.

Brentwood and Creve Coeur implementing these strong policies is in line with what’s happening throughout the rest of the state as well. In the past year, Jefferson City, O’Fallon, and Raleigh have all passed strong comprehensive smoke-free laws as well.