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Cigarette Bans In Public Places May Be Insufficient

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By Brett Spiegel

The peripheral detriments associated with smoking cigarettes -- environmental pollution, tobacco glamorization, and, of course, secondhand smoke, especially among kids -- may not actually diminish from smoking bans in public arenas like parks and beaches, finds a new paper published in Health Affairs.

Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that even though state and local governments implement smoking bans in public places to promote the health and protection of non-smokers and the environment, a new perspective is needed -- one that hones in on interventions that target actual smokers rather than general, unsupported claims of smoking's potential influence on bystanders' health.

"Instead of relying on weak or contestable evidence of third party harms, public health officials should assert boldly that the challenge of tobacco related morbidity and mortality necessitates measures that will help smokers to limit their smoking and ultimately quit," said senior paper author Ronald Bayer, PhD, Mailman School professor of Sociomedical Sciences, in a press release.

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The paper highlights the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation's tracking of smoking bans -- pioneered by such states as California, Minnesota, and New Jersey -- that were implemented on a total of 993 beaches and parks between January 1993 and June 2011. Furthermore, the paper references a 2011 Gallup poll that reports a rise in public support for smoking bans by 19 percent since 2008.

However, several of the leading anti-smoking organizations such as the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society favor other smoking cessation methods instead of bans, including stricter indoor smoking policies and increased control of cigarette taxing and marketing.

"Tobacco is the number-one preventable cause of death in the United States, but its impact is not limited to smokers," said Cheryl G. Healton, DrPH, president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates smoking prevention and quitting, specifically among teenagers, in a press release. "Research continues to grow on the negative impact of secondhand smoke as well as cigarettes' effect on the environment."

Bayer and his colleagues, however, believe that to truly combat the negative ramifications of smoking cigarettes, public health officials and public policy makers must enforce a need for more stringent and more evidence-based anti-smoking legislation, one that "denormalizes" smoking altogether.

"Banning smoking in public settings may have seemed beyond the pale 25 years ago, but with changes in the political context and in social norms, the public has increasingly come to consider them as interventions designed to serve the common good," Dr. Bayer wrote in the paper. "However, local coalitions pressing for smoking bans need to be strong enough to overcome the opposition of the tobacco and hospitality industries and of people who invoke threats of Big Brother."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, secondhand smoke is responsible for roughly 46,000 premature deaths from heart disease annually among non-smokers. Additionally, cigarette butts remain among the most littered items in the world.

"Cigarette Bans in Parks, Beaches May Just Be Smoke and Mirrors" originally appeared on Everyday Health

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