Escambia tries to kick the habit

Published 7:50 am Wednesday, April 27, 2005

By By Lee Weyhrich
Some Escambia County residents have begun a crusade against tobacco.
Tina Findley, a registered nurse with the State Department of Public Health, Suzanne Helton, a health teacher with Escambia County High School and Ruth Harrell, a registered nurse with the Coalition for a healthier Escambia County are leading an effort to make Escambia County smoke free.
"My job with the department of public health is in tobacco prevention and control," Findley said.
There are currently seven smoke-free states — California, Delaware, New York, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – Findley and others are now hoping that Alabama can follow in the footsteps of those states.
"From what I understand the states that are tobacco free and this was the route they took," Findley said. "Once the state became 50 percent smoke free the rest of the state was able to become smoke free."
Findley hopes that by converting one city at a time the whole state can eventually become tobacco free, saving thousands of lives.
"For every eight smokers one non smoker will die from exposure to second hand smoke," Findley said. "25.73 percent of people smoke in Alabama. I'm one of the tobacco coordinators for the State of Alabama and I am the one for this region. This region is area 9. Mobile is part of another region but Baldwin county is in my region."
Over 700 students at Escambia County High School signed a petition to get the city to pass a smoke-free ordinance
The smoke free ordinance has been brought before the boards of every municipality in this county.
"I think Flomaton is pretty close to adopting it," Findley said. "The mayor is in favor of it so we will have to see."
So why are tobacco coordinators pushing the plan on cities rather than state legislators?
"This is the best way, to kind of get city councils to make the decision to go tobacco free," Findley said. "They say the data shows that people don't really look at those amendments when they're voting."
And why is a smoke-free state so important?
"It (tobacco) is listed as a group A carcinogen and that's the same group as Radon and Asbestos," Findley said. "A smoke-filled room is six times the air pollution of a city highway. We know if this ordinance is passed it will save lives."
After the council has decided on whether or not to pursue a tobacco ordinance the decision will reach the next step.
"They have a public hearing next and tell people they can come and voice their opinion on it," Findley said.
According to Findley, however, many restaurants have been apprehensive of smoke-free laws. As a result many cities are afraid of a loss in tax revenue from these restaurants.
"A lot of people worry about what the economic impact would be if they didn't allow smoking," Findley said at a Monday's city council meeting. "The whole state of New York is tobacco free; Michigan, Maine and there are also five countries that are tobacco free, the most recent being Cuba. When you think about Cuba being economically suppressed, but they have realized what the importance of having a clean air ordinance is to the health of their citizens."
Prattville, one of three municipalities in Alabama to already have a working tobacco ordinance has seen no such problems.
" It's been received extremely positively," Prattville Mayor Jim Byard said. "A lot of people thought that people wouldn't come out in restaurants but we've seen no noticeable change as far as taxes or anything."
Prattville does not have a total ban on smoking but rather a modified no-smoking ordinance.
"Our ordinance is really pretty simple," Byard said. "A restaurant either chooses to be smoking or chooses to be smoke free. Some restaurants can be both but they (restaurant patrons) have to go through a closed door to smoke. A restaurant can choose to be smoking or nonsmoking each year when they get their business license."
Most of Prattville's eating establishments have gone no smoking.
"I would guess 80 percent of our restaurants have gone smoke free," Byard said. "There's 55 non smoking and 15 that allow smoking."
Montgomery has a similar choice-based ordinance.
"We allow people to go fully smoking or fully non smoking but nothing in between," Montgomery City Attorney Walter Byars said. "Most of them have some sort of arrangement outside, out of the weather so they can go outside to smoke."
Byars believes that the entire city of Alabama will eventually go smoke-free.
"I believe that it will happen in two years," Byars said. "The whole state will be smoke free within two years. Ultimately it is going to pass (in state government) in my opinion."
The City of Birmingham passed a smoke-free ordinance last week banning smoking in all public places.
Five countries are also tobacco-free Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Sweden and Cuba.

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