More misleading smoke about protecting public health

More misleading smoke about protecting public health

- in Fitzsimon File

Thank goodness that Rep. Hugh Holliman is so determined to protect people from the deadly effects of secondhand smoke. Powerful interests are organized against him, trying to protect the tobacco industry, whose corporate profits depend on people increasing their risk of lung cancer and heart attacks.

A few weeks ago, a House committee passed Holliman’s legislation that would ban smoking in most public places, including restaurants, bars, and workplaces.

Evidence for the ban is compelling and straightforward. The Surgeon General says no exposure to secondhand smoke is safe. It increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Banning smoking does not have a negative impact on the bottom line of bars and restaurants. Some studies have actually found that sales increase when secondhand smoke is no longer present.  Polls have shown that the vast majority of people in North Carolina support the ban.  They want to breathe clean air.  

That’s why it was not much of a surprise when the committee passed Holliman’s ban, but it ran into problems headed to the House floor.  A coalition of right-wing groups with the support of the tobacco industry managed to turn the debate away from public health and make Holliman’s bill a referendum on property rights. 

A new group was even created to help in the misinformation campaign, the North Carolina Coalition for Hospitality Choice, which was clearly connected behind the scenes to the tobacco industry.

The argument was that the ban would infringe on the rights of employers and owners of bars and restaurants by forcing them to make their property smoke free. No one has yet explained why it’s different than the state forcing businesses to abide by fire safety codes or have inspections for new construction.

But the misleading claim worked with enough members of the House, worried about being branded by the right-wing propaganda machine as anti-private property, and Holliman withdrew his plan and came up with a compromise that the same House committee passed Tuesday.

The new version would not affect workplaces, but would still ban smoking in restaurants and most bars, only exempting stand alone bars that prohibit anyone under 21 from entering.  It would also allow local governments to pass their own anti-smoking regulations stricter than Holliman’s bill. A 1993 law passed at the request of the tobacco industry prohibits tough local ordinances

So members of the House will get another chance to protect the public health while the absurd claims of the right continue.

The latest spin offensive comes from a collaboration of two of the tobacco industry’s dearest friends in making sure people keep inhaling deadly secondhand smoke, the misnamed “Americans for Prosperity” and the Pope Civitas Institute, the polling arm of Pope, Inc.

Americans for the Prosperous issued a press release this week touting the results of this week’s Civitas poll purporting to show that 70 percent of North Carolinians oppose Holliman’s statewide smoking ban.

But just last month, a poll by the same Civitasers asked “Do you think the state should pass a law banning smoking in all buildings open to the pubic, including bars and restaurants?”  Sixty-one percent of people responding said yes, 34 percent said no. That didn’t go over too well on right wing avenue, so they tried again.

Only this time the question asked if people “support the rights of restaurant, bar and tavern owners to set their own smoking policy as long as a sign is out front,” and found that 70 percent of the people said yes.  If at first your poll doesn’t mislead, try, try again.

There was no news release by Americans for the Prosperous about the first finding, which is actually supported by other surveys like the Elon Poll that found 64 percent of people support a statewide smoking ban. 

Holliman wants to protect people from the indisputably harmful effects of secondhand smoke, but smoking bans have also been found to help people stop smoking and that’s the real issue behind much of the opposition. The tobacco industry needs people to keep smoking at all costs, even if it means that smokers endangering the health of others while shortening their own lives.

The evidence supporting Holliman’s smoking ban is just as compelling today as it was a few weeks ago. Let’s hope lawmakers this time ignore the misleading pleas about property and protect people’s lives.