Four years after Starkville became the first smoke-free town in Mississippi, the state Legislature could face the decision whether to ban public smoking for every town.
This year a grassroots campaign is working to get a smoke-free bill passed in January of 2010. Langston Moore, program director for Smokefree Air, will bring volunteers to 10 football games around the state.
“We’re kinda the boots-on-the-ground as far as the campaign is concerned,” he said.
Smokefree Air is helping to sponsor today’s Mississippi State football game and will have a tent set up across from the Cullis Wade Depot near Davis Wade Stadium.
In 2006, the surgeon general published a report stating there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco, Moore said.
“We believe that everybody deserves to breathe smoke free air,” he said.
The group will have a petition along with a banner of support for people to sign.
Mississippi currently has 36 smoke-free towns. Including Washington D.C., 31 states have outlawed public smoking. According to the 2009 Mississippi Social Climate Survey of Tobacco Control, 80 percent of Mississippians do not smoke, while 76 percent believe that work sites should be smoke-free. Eighty-one percent believe restaurants should be smoke-free.
Tobacco-related illnesses are the leading cause of death in Mississippi, local researcher Robert McMillen said, followed by obesity.
“Anything we can do to protect people from second hand smoke would certainly increase the health of Mississippi,” he said.
While most people in the state think public places should be smoke free, McMillen added, supporting a cause is still not “actively” supporting a cause. Smokefree Air is working to do just that, attending civic meetings across the state, educating people on the dangers of second hand smoke.
Each year, about 550 nonsmokers die from exposure to secondhand smoke, which can also double the risk of death from sudden infant death syndrome.
Along with their many illness-related side effects such as increased risk of bronchitis, pneumonia, cancer and and heat disease, the 4,000 chemicals in smoke from cigarettes, cigars and pipes also puts a strain on the state’s economy.
Mississippi spends $264 each year in direct Medicaid costs. That’s $1.04 for every pack of cigarettes sold.
Additionally, smoking kills $1.4 billion a year’s worth of productivity in the state.
The upside for business owners in a smoke-free state, however, would include decreased cleaning and maintenance costs, insurance costs, legal liability, and the increase of property resale value.
A statewide ban on public smoking would look a lot like the Starkville’s no-smoking ordinance: It would ban smoking indoors in public places, such as restaurants and stores and require a certain amount of distance from their doors in order to smoke outside.
The American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi are also involved in the campaign.
“So far this is the most organized push for a smoke-free state,” McMillen said.