This week, Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of health organizations that ClearWay Minnesota co-chairs, marks the 10-year anniversary of the Freedom to Breathe Act, a law that protects Minnesotans from secondhand smoke in public places including restaurants and bars. The positive changes the law has made in people’s lives across the state are clear.
“Having clean air to breathe at work means I can continue to do the work I love. I wouldn’t have chosen to continue working in a restaurant with smoky air through my pregnancies,” says Jessica Berry, a bar and restaurant server in St. Paul with two children and one more on the way. “I’m astounded now to think back on the conditions my coworkers and I were exposed to 10 years ago, and relieved to know that we no longer have to endure that kind of toxic air on a regular basis.”
Musician Justin Bell played in smoky bars up to ten times a month before the Freedom to Breathe Act cleared the air. “Freedom to Breathe was a game-changer for working musicians in Minnesota,” said Bell, a father of two who works for the American Heart Association. He appreciates the healthy change the new law meant for the state’s music and hospitality community – and his family. “Before Freedom to Breathe, you had no choice but to subject yourself and anyone who wanted to see you perform to clouds of secondhand smoke. My smoke-free home constantly smelled like an ashtray, exposing my entire family to the accumulated poison my gear had collected gig by gig. Now my family, fellow bandmembers and Minnesota music lovers are healthier thanks to Freedom to Breathe.”
“My daughters, who are six and nine, have no idea what a smoking section is,” says Katie Engman, a Twin Cities public health advocate and mother. “As parents, we do everything we can to give our kids the best future possible. Freedom to Breathe goes right along with seat belts, car seats, access to healthy food, all those things we do to provide a healthy start and set a good example for our kids.”
The statistics back up the personal stories. Air pollution from secondhand smoke particles in bars and restaurants decreased by more than 95 percent after the law went into effect, according to an American Journal of Preventive Medicine report in 2010. University of Minnesota researchers found that exposure to a tobacco-related carcinogen in nonsmoking hospitality workers had fallen by 85 percent within the first month of the law. Secondhand smoke exposure also decreased dramatically among members of the public, with 31 percent of Minnesotans reporting exposure to secondhand smoke in any location in 2014, down 25 percentage points from 2007, according to the Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey (MATS). The law also encouraged smokers to quit. MATS showed that adult smoking levels dropped from 17 percent in 2007 to a new low of 14 percent in 2014.
Minnesotans overwhelmingly support the Freedom to Breathe Act. According to a 2014 Blue Cross and Blue Shield public opinion survey, 87 percent of Minnesotans support the law.
The statewide Freedom to Breathe Act was the result of years of effort by health advocates and followed bold action in local communities throughout Minnesota. Moose Lake was the first city in the state to have its bars and restaurants go smoke-free. Other pioneering communities that were among the first in Minnesota to adopt smoke-free workplace laws include Mankato, Duluth and Olmsted County.
All the organizations that make up Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation celebrate the improvement Freedom to Breathe has made in people’s lives. However, tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Minnesota and 55,000 Minnesota students will use tobacco this year. Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation will continue to pursue policies that reduce youth smoking, including keeping tobacco prices high, raising the tobacco age to 21, limiting access to candy-, fruit- and menthol-flavored tobacco and funding future tobacco control programs.
Partners include: A Healthier Southwest, African American Leadership Forum, Allina Health, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association in Minnesota, Apple Tree Dental, Association for Nonsmokers – Minnesota, Becker County Energize, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, CentraCare Health, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, ClearWay MinnesotaSM, Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio – CLUES, Essentia Health, Four Corners Partnership, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, HealthEast, HealthPartners, Hennepin County Medical Center, Indigenous Peoples Task Force, ISAIAH, LAAMPP Institute, Lake Region Healthcare, Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative, Local Public Health Association of Minnesota, March of Dimes, Mayo Clinic, Medica, Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians, Minnesota Association of Community Health Centers, Minnesota Cancer Alliance, Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Minnesota Council of Health Plans, Minnesota Hospital Association, Minnesota Medical Association, Minnesota Oral Health Coalition, Minnesota Public Health Association, Model Cities of St. Paul, Inc., NAMI Minnesota, North Memorial Health Care, NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, PartnerSHIP 4 Health, Perham Health, Rainbow Health Initiative, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, Tobacco Free Alliance and Twin Cities Medical Society, UCare and WellShare International.