Group pushes smoke-free air initiative for state

Published 7:00 pm Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Please extinguish all smoking materials.

Smokefree Air Mississippi, a health initiative of theMississippi State Department of Health, is pushing for legislationin 2011 that would create a statewide smoke-free air policy for allpublic places in Mississippi. The group, in conjunction withseveral other health-oriented organizations associated with thePartnership for a Healthy Mississippi, is preparing a bill for theLegislature to consider during the next session, said programdirector Langston Moore.

“We would love to see a comprehensive statewide smoke-free airpolicy,” Moore said Tuesday during a presentation to the BrookhavenLions Club. “Our goal is to make all work places smoke free.”

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To make his point on the dangers of second-hand smoke – theinitiative’s target – Moore delved into a collection of “real truefacts” and figures maintained by the agency.

According to Smokefree Air Mississippi, second-hand smoke isresponsible for 550 deaths each year in the Magnolia State.Additionally, the state pays $264 million in Medicaid costsannually to treat those affected by first- or second-hand smoke, atotal that amounts to $1.04 in tax dollars for every pack ofcigarettes.

And none of the methods used to segregate smokers fromnon-smokers in public places are working, Moore claimed.

“It does not work. Studies show high-tech ventilation systemsdon’t work,” he said. “You know how your eyes burn when you leave acasino? It’s not just irritation.”

Moore harped on the casino industry repeatedly during hisspeech, singling the gambling houses out as the premierestablishments where workers have no choice but to deal withsecond-hand smoke.

“Breathing second-hand smoke is not an option for workers in asmoke-filled environment. Breathing is not a choice,” Moore said.”(Casino workers) are exposed to it for long periods of time -eight or 10 hours a day.”

Second-hand smoke also increases the chances of Sudden InfantDeath Syndrome, Moore said.

“Babies try to find clean air, and they can roll over andsuffocate themselves,” he said.

Going back to Smokefree Air Mississippi’s statistics, Moore said80 percent of Mississippians do not smoke and 76 percent believeworkplaces should be smoke-free. Even 57 percent of smokers supportbanning smoking in restaurants, he said.

The last statistic is great evidence that a statewide smoke-freepolicy is supported and should be passed, Moore said. But whenasked specifics about how Smokefree Air Mississippi’s legislationwould affect smoking in public, he was unable to answer.

“I haven’t seen the legislation,” he said. “Until it isintroduced, I really won’t know.”

Regardless, Moore sought support from Lions Club members,passing out sign-up sheets for members to list their names andinformation in support of the smoke-free initiative. People maysign the petition electronically at

Lions Club member Jim McKennon was ready to show his support forthe initiative, quizzing Moore about why smoking in restaurants hasnot been outlawed already.

“Why can’t we get this bill passed?” McKennon asked. “Mysolution for people smoking in restaurants is to just shootthem.”

Moore blamed the casinos.

“It’s politics. Casinos hold it up because they think it hurtstheir business,” he said. “But there’s studies out there that showgoing smoke-free doesn’t hurt your business. If it moves it at all,it helps business.”

Lions Club member Lynn Richardson spoke up to oppose theinitiative, expressing fears about growing governmentintervention.

“Some of us regard this as the camel’s nose sticking under thetent,” she said.