Good Question: Do Smoking Bans Make Us Healthier?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Three years after Minnesota enacted a statewide smoking ban in bars and restaurants, most people are happy with it. More than 70 percent approve of it, in public opinion polls.

Even former smokers approve of it at the Hopkins Tavern.

“It’s really nice that the air is cleaner in here,” said one customer.

“This bar used to stink,” said another.

But after three years without being surrounded by the secondhand smoke, are Minnesotans any healthier?

“Clearly we are,” said Kerri Gordon, senior public affairs manager with ClearWay Minnesota, a non-profit research group dedicated to reducing smoking in Minnesota.

“We know indoor air quality is significantly improved,” added Gordon, noting that there was a dramatic decrease in indoor pollution.

That has been very good news for people with asthma.

They’ve also found improvements in nonsmoking bar and restaurant employees, the group deemed most at risk because of their constant exposure to smoke.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota Cancer Center found nicotine levels in restaurant employees dropped 83 percent when compared to their level before the ban. Another carcinogen declined by 85 percent.

Are people smoking less? According to the American Lung Association in Minnesota, “we used to have 21 percent of adults smoking, now it’s down to about 16,” said Bob Moffitt.

Of course, smoking trends have been declining already, so it’s possible this is a continuation of that trend.

“You bet (the ban) is working. We’ve seen a 15 percent drop in heart attacks since the smoking ban,” said Moffitt, who was referring to American Heart Assocation data that indicates 91,000 Minnesotans got treatment for heart attack in 2007, before the ban. Just two years later, in 2009, 78,000 were treated.

ClearWay Minnesota is in the middle of a research project with Mayo Clinic, looking for evidence of a direct link that less secondhand smoke at bars and restaurants really leads to fewer heart attacks.

So far, lung cancer rates have not declined.

“That’s going to take 10 or 15 years, because you don’t develop lung cancer immediately, that’s a long term exposure,” said Moffitt,

Still, the hope is: “If we make smoking more inconvenient, more people will decide it’s not worth the hassle,” said Moffitt.

WCCO-TV’s Jason DeRusha Reports

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