The U.S. Surgeon General has definitely stated that there is no safe level of secondhand exposure. In the U.S. it causes tens of thousands of deaths from lung cancer and coronary heart disease every year. Fortunately, the Freedom to Breathe Act protects the vast majority of Minnesotans from secondhand smoke in public places since 2007.
In 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General stated definitively that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure. A new Surgeon General’s report that year showed that secondhand smoke causes heart disease, cancer and other illnesses, including many that affect children. The report stated that secondhand smoke exposure was responsible at that time for more than annual 49,000 deaths nationwide.
But October 1, 2007, brought us a breath of fresh air. On that day, all Minnesota workplaces, including bars and restaurants, became smoke-free with the Freedom to Breathe Act of 2007, a comprehensive statewide law that provides protections from secondhand smoke to the vast majority of workers in our state.
The law took effect more than five years ago, and research shows how Minnesota is benefiting from it. The University of Minnesota found an 85 percent decrease in tobacco-specific carcinogens in the bodies of hospitality workers, who were the individuals most affected by workplace smoking before the law. A Mayo Clinic study also found substantial decreases in heart attacks following the law.
Additional studies show a drop of 11 percentage points in overall secondhand-smoke exposure, as well as more people — including smokers — voluntarily making their homes smoke-free. And other studies by the University found that employment levels in Minnesota bars and restaurants actually remained stable after going smoke-free.
And a poll from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota in 2014 found that 87 percent of Minnesotans support the law – an increase from 77 percent in 2008.
Unfortunately, too many Minnesotans are still exposed to secondhand smoke in too many places. We support efforts to reduce that exposure across the state, and in recent years we have seen successful efforts to make new spaces, including college campuses, multi-unit housing and daycare and foster homes, smoke-free.
Kids are particularly susceptible to the risks of secondhand smoke, and requiring smoke-free environments for foster homes is an overdue step. Research shows that secondhand smoke exposure is a known cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), potentially fatal respiratory infections, frequent and severe asthma attacks and frequent ear infections. Children in foster care also are more likely to have pre-existing medical conditions.
Many Minnesota counties (as well as over half of U.S. states) have made their foster homes smoke-free. The protection from secondhand smoke should be extended to all foster children in Minnesota.