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Sunday, May 26, 2019

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Secondhand smoke still damaging lives in Louisiana

Secondhand smoke still damaging lives in Louisiana

Secondhand smoke a contributing factor to Louisianians least healthy in America

“Louisiana ranks dead last in overall health of its citizens, and the lack of a comprehensive smoke-free law is in great part to blame,” according to testimony during a health commission hearing at the State Capitol Tuesday.

Raegan Carter, a consultant for the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, and Claudia Rodas, Director of the Southern Region, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, presented information that shows the smoking epidemic not only costing thousands of lives in Louisiana, but the direct cost to Louisiana citizens is approaching $2 billion annually.

“The numbers are alarming. I wish I had better news, but the fact speaks for itself: About 1/3 of Louisiana cancer deaths are due to smoking. We have a high percentage of smokers (23%) and a low tobacco tax ($1.08). These all contribute to the poor ranking. And while significant strides have been made lately, Louisiana is still woefully behind other states in addressing this issue. Until it does, Louisiana citizens and businesses will continue to pay the price of higher taxes and health care costs, and its citizens will ultimately pay in lower health outcomes and more untimely deaths,” Carter warned.

“One of the most alarming statistics showed that Louisiana citizens pay $6.03 billion in total secondhand smoke exposure each year. When you look at annual budget shortfalls, you have to look at how much money is being dedicated to the economics of smoking,” she said.

Rodas said 7,200 Louisianians die each year from their own smoking with costs to taxpayers in the hundreds of millions of dollars. She says tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death in Louisiana and across America, killing more people than alcohol, AIDS, automobile accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined.

The presentations came before a committee appointed by the Legislature to study the policy gap in Louisiana’s Smoke-free Air Act of the 2006 Legislature. That Act 815 prohibited smoking in most public areas including workplaces, universities and restaurants. However, it notably omitted bars and casinos.

Since the implementation of the Act in January 2007, only 20% of the state’s population has been covered by comprehensive ordinances that address the exemptions and ensure that all workplaces, including bars and casinos, are providing smoke-free environments.

Carter produced an extensive list of studies documenting the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. Those reports showed that secondhand smoke causes cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and numerous other devastating ailments. She said while the pain, suffering and loss of life is incalculable, the financial burden on citizens and taxpayers has become a major cause of budget concerns at the state level.

“Louisiana has had 10 legislative regular or special sessions in just the past three years. Most of the attention was to address an overall budget shortfall, due in part to increased expenses related to smoking and health care costs. Louisiana’s 2018 Medicaid costs due to smoking were more than $800 million. That’s alarming! Roads and bridges don’t get fixed, teachers don’t get pay raises, and every department in state government faced budgetary pressures that could have been softened if we weren’t flushing so much smoking-related expense down the drain,” she added.

Carter cited example after example of other states that have “boldly addressed smoke-free laws.”

Carter said 26 states currently ban smoking in all workplaces including bars and restaurants.

“Most people will acknowledge that a primary role of any government is to protect its citizens. We encourage and applaud those governing bodies that are making smoke-free laws an integral part of protecting all of its citizens,” she concluded.