Much more than park smoking ban needed

Health and Human Sciences, Public Health students. Portraits and group photo (Purdue University/ Mark Simons)

I am writing in response to the article “Smoking ban snuffed out” in The News-Dispatch on May 29. I commend Councilwoman Sharon Carnes for leading the smoke-free parks public health initiative in Michigan City. Though the ordinance was rejected, this is an opportunity to raise awareness about the tobacco burden in the city and what Healthy Communities of La Porte County is doing to combat it.

La Porte County has a serious tobacco problem. Out of 92 counties in Indiana, La Porte ranks dead last in health behaviors, a measure based on things like excessive drinking, physical inactivity and tobacco use. With an adult smoking rate of 29 percent, nearly double the national average, La Porte County has one of the highest smoking rates in America. Smoking not only affects the smoker’s health, but the health of nonsmokers around them.

The percentage of women who self-report smoking during pregnancy in La Porte County is over 21 percent. Maternal smoking during pregnancy is one of the strongest risk factors associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a cause of infant mortality. Babies born to mothers who smoked during their pregnancy are three to five times more likely to die from SIDS.

The proposed ordinance acknowledged secondhand smoke exposure as a public health concern in outdoor spaces. Perhaps more important is the impact it can have on those exposed in indoor spaces. Secondhand smoke is considered a carcinogen, containing over 7,000 harmful chemicals, 70 of which are known to cause cancer. Secondhand smoke exposure kills over 40,000 people every year.

The employees in Michigan City’s bars, casino and private clubs are exposed to secondhand smoke inside their workplaces every day. Secondhand smoke exposure disproportionately affects minorities, service workers, families in multi-unit housing, and low-income individuals. While I supported the ordinance for smoke-free city-owned parks, I believe we have much bigger fish to fry.

In order to begin changing the culture of tobacco use in Michigan City, city leaders and lawmakers need to champion proven effective strategies: tobacco price increases, hard-hitting media campaigns, increased cessation access, and comprehensive smoke-free air protections for everyone. These methods come from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Best Practices for Comprehensive Tobacco Control, and have decades of research and data supporting their impact.

The most effective tobacco interventions include increasing the price of tobacco products and decreasing areas where smoking is acceptable. Healthy Communities of La Porte County actively addresses our local tobacco burden by committing to CDC’s Best Practices. We collaborate with providers, employers and organizations to expand access to free cessation assistance, provide high-quality education to community leaders and members, and advocate for policy change at the organizational, local, state and federal levels.

Healthy Communities also facilitates the local Healthy Air: Smoke-free La Porte County Coalition, a grassroots movement advocating for comprehensive tobacco control.

In addition to what the article stated, a handful of Michigan City residents spoke in support of the smoke-free parks initiative. Also, as the local Tobacco Prevention and Cessation contact, Healthy Communities of La Porte County provided the council with resources, research and education about secondhand smoke exposure, smoke-free air protections, and the issue of enforceability. Research continues to show smoke-free air ordinances are self-enforced or peer-enforced, like obeying speed limits and road signs, or wearing seatbelts.

Michigan City leaders know the value our parks, playgrounds, and beaches play in promoting healthy living. Should we be modeling tobacco use to our young people at these family-friendly green spaces? As communities across the state pass comprehensive smoke-free air laws, how long must Michigan City residents be exposed to cancer-causing tobacco smoke before leaders take action to protect our health?

For more information about Healthy Communities of La Porte County, visit healthycommunitieslpc.org or call 219-210-3499.

Sarah Null is Tobacco Program Coordinator for Healthy Communities of La Porte County. She has bachelor’s degrees in  Public Health, Global Health, Health Administration and Health Policy from Purdue University; and a Master of Public Health from The Graduate School at Purdue.

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