Minnesota is celebrating 5 years of smoke-free airGone are the days when you’d get home from the bars on a Saturday night smelling like cigarettes or walk into a restaurant and be asked, “Smoking or non-smoking?”
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
Gone are the days when you’d get home from the bars on a Saturday night smelling like cigarettes or walk into a restaurant and be asked, “Smoking or non-smoking?”
Those who choose not to smoke have been able to avoid it much more easily for the past five years, and it’s all because of a single law that went into effect Oct. 1, 2007.
Minnesota’s Freedom to Breath Act prohibited smoking in all bars, restaurants and workplaces throughout the state. As Monday marked the fifth anniversary of the law’s enactment, health officials are reflecting on the landmark legislation.
“The Freedom to Breathe Act has a personal impact on everyone, here in Red Wing and across the state,” said Tom Wolff of Goodhue County Health and Human Services.
Wolff is the Goodhue County coordinator for the Four Corners Partnership, a joint effort among Dodge, Goodhue, Rice and Steele counties to educate the public about the harmful effects of tobacco.
Since 2007, those negative effects have been significantly diminished. Studies show a decline in the number of people exposed to secondhand smoke, the number of addicted smokers and the number of heart attacks in the state.
A poll taken by Decision Resources LTD in 2011 showed that 86 percent of Minnesota residents agree with the studies — smoke-free facilities really are better for customers and employees.
“Simply put, Minnesotans have embraced our smoke-free laws because they are making us healthier,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Ed Ehlinger said.
Surrounding locations have recognized the health differences, too. Minnesota is one of 29 states — including Iowa, Wisconsin and South Dakota — to have smoke-free bars and restaurants.
Since the laws were put in place, Minnesota’s adult smoking prevalence has dropped to 16.1 percent. As a result, exposure to nicotine and cancer-causing agents has fallen as well.
Although health officials believe the Freedom to Breathe Act was a positive step toward a healthier state, they know it wasn’t an end-all solution. According to the Four Corners Partnership, smoking remains the leading cause of death and disease in Minnesota.
The unhealthy habit kills more than 5,100 residents a year. But despite seeing the statistic, 625,000 Minnesotans continue to smoke.
Additionally, the age of smokers continues to get younger and younger.
“More than 6,800 Minnesota kids become daily smokers each year,” Wolff said.
“We know the tobacco industry spends $157 million per year in Minnesota marketing their products, and unfortunately their efforts are working,” noted Matt Schafer, Minnesota Director of Government Relations for the American Cancer Society.
In an attempt to counter those efforts, the Four Corners Partnership is working to increase public awareness about the relationship between tobacco advertising and youth smoking, Wolff explained.
While preventing the tobacco industry from obtaining new smokers is one of the group’s goals, the Four Corners Partnership also encourages current smokers to eliminate their habit by providing helpful tips, facts and counseling phone numbers on their website at www.4cornerspartnership.org.
The group is one of many across the state that is hoping the positive effects of the Freedom to Breathe Act will last long past its fifth anniversary.
“The Freedom to Breathe law is a great success story, but now is not the time to be complacent,” Ehlinger said. “There is more work to be done on tobacco control in Minnesota to ensure future generations are not impacted by this deadly product.”