Letter to the editor: Ban smoking, too

George Belitsos

The Ames City Council could soon make Iowa history. On Sept. 12, the Council will consider becoming the first city in Iowa to ban smoking in local restaurants. I hope ISU students and faculty will join me and the Ames Tobacco Taskforce as we encourage our City Council to lead the way. Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) is a serious health threat to smokers and nonsmokers alike. In 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency classified secondhand smoke as a Group A carcinogen. Exposure to ETS is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. – approximately 53,000 people die each year as a result of breathing the smoke of other’s cigarettes. Being airborne, dangerous chemicals and gasses, which are a part of ETS, travel unpredictably. Separating smokers and nonsmokers in a restaurant doesn’t protect anyone from the dangers of ETS. One especially good social reason to ban smoking in restaurants is that adults will begin setting a better example for our young people. Some might ask why city government is the logical level at which to write such a ban. Other than the obvious fact that local citizens want to protect the health of their loved ones, local jurisdictions are usually able to tailor their laws to address specific issues within the community. Also, most locally written indoor air ordinances are self-enforcing. By debating the issue locally, the public is informed and comes to expect compliance. According to Tobacco Free Iowa, over 820 local governments across the country have enacted local, clean-indoor air ordinances. A 1999 study of economic growth of restaurants in Madison shows revenues grew by 24 percent. Research shows that secondhand smoke increases the risk of developing lung cancer, other respiratory illnesses and damage to fetuses during pregnancy. A study found that women exposed to their husbands’ secondhand smoke (20 or more cigarettes daily) had double the risk of lung cancer compared to women married to nonsmokers. Recently, the Youth & Shelter Services Board of Directors went on record supporting the proposed ban. With this letter, I challenge other Ames organizations and individuals to voice their support for the elimination of smoking in Ames restaurants. Write your council person and newspapers, tell your neighbors or bring it up in your service organization meetings. Get your organizations to take up the issue as a project. I know it can be done because it’s already been done by many cities and towns all over the United States. It has been said that if the effects of cigarette smoke and secondhand exposure appeared on our skin instead of our lungs, no one would smoke, and we wouldn’t need to escape the dangers of secondhand smoke. Others might make this an issue of smokers’ rights, but at its core, this is more accurately an issue of nonsmokers’ rights. No matter what we call it, it is undeniably a health issue. No one has the right to endanger another person’s health. George Belitsos

Chief executive officer

Ames Youth & Shelter Services