Smoke-free in Savannah: Good for Health and Good for Business

February 16, 2015

There’s been a great deal of work conducted by public health professionals to ensure we all enjoy a deep breath of fresh air, free from damaging toxins released in the air from cigarette smoke. Despite these efforts, there’s still much work to be done, as indicated in a recent Vital Signs report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC found that although secondhand smoke exposure (SHS) in the United States dropped by half between 1999 to 2000 and 2011 to 2012, 58 million nonsmokers are still exposed to secondhand smoke. The report addressed how state and city officials can protect children and adult nonsmokers from SHS by eliminating smoking in indoor areas such as restaurants, bars, casinos, and other private worksites as well as multiunit housing including apartments, condominiums and government-funded housing.

The Surgeon General has concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to SHS, which contains more than 7,000 chemicals including about 70 that can cause cancer. It is a known cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), respiratory infections, ear infections and asthma attacks in infants and children, as well as heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer in adult smokers.

Each year, exposure to SHS causes more than 41,000 deaths from lung cancer and heart disease among non-smoking adults and 400 deaths from SIDS. Furthermore, the nation loses $5.6 billion annually in lost productivity due to SHS health impacts.

According to CDC’s report, 26 states, the District of Columbia, and almost 700 cities have passed comprehensive smoke-free laws prohibiting smoking in worksites, restaurants and bars. These state and local laws currently cover almost half the U.S. population.

The Georgia Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Coastal Health District in Savannah is among the 700 cities to pass a smoke-free ordinance which became effective in 2011. Savannah’s smoke-free ordinance eliminated secondhand smoke exposure in all public indoor locations, including bars and restaurants.

Since the smoke-free ordinance passed in Savannah, tobacco smoking, secondhand smoke exposure and related health conditions have decreased, creating a healthier community for children and nonsmokers.

“Other jurisdictions that have passed comprehensive smoke-free ordinances have seen heart attack mortality rates fall dramatically” said Jean O’Connor, JD, MPH, DrPH, director of Chronic Disease Prevention for DPH. “Community-level studies suggest a reduction in secondhand smoke exposure after enactment of ordinances reduces hospital admissions for acute coronary syndrome decrease between 11 percent and 40 percent.”

The Coastal Health District, Healthy Savannah Coalition and its committee, BreathEasy Savannah, worked with city and county governments to ensure the Georgia Smokefree Air Act of 2005 was fully implemented in their community. Between 2010 and 2012, coalition members worked with the mayor, city council and Chatham County Commission to pass a smoke-free ordinance.

Further underscoring CDC data is a recent report from Roswell Park Cancer Institute which cites a 94 percent decrease in indoor air pollution among bars and restaurants only 12 months after the smoke-free ordinance was passed in Savannah.

“This is an employee health victory for our bartenders, wait staff and patrons,” said Cristina Pasa Gibson, MPH, chronic disease prevention director for the Coastal Health District. “Other cities in the United States that have adopted smoke-free ordinances have enjoyed significant decreases in admissions to the emergency room for heart attacks – in some cases close to 15 percent decrease within 18 months of ordinance implementation. I will be very happy to see this happen for the City of Savannah."

With a smoke-free ordinance fully enacted, Savannah and Chatham residents and employees enjoy increased protection from the adverse health effects of SHS and a positive culture shift among community members and businesses that embrace the benefits of a smoke-free and environment.

Small business owner, Joseph Laufenberg, of the Southside Billiard Club and his staff are happy to welcome customers into a smoke-free business. Laufenberg has owned a local billiard parlor for 20 years and manages nine full-time and part-time employees. He never liked cigarette smoke, but tolerated it to compete with other local businesses.

“I hated smoking, but I allowed it in my facility because the smokers would go to the other businesses in the area. We’re a small business and I did not want to lose the customers,” said Laufenberg.

After four years of having the smoke-free ordinance in Savannah, Laufenberg sees the positive impact of clean air for his business, customers, employees and family members. He is optimistic that he made the right decision for his health and the health of his employees, the children and grandchildren of employees and customers who enjoy spending time at the Southside Billiard Club.

“It’s all positive,” said Laufenberg. “I feel much better about myself, my employees and customers who suffered from the secondhand smoke. Once I realized how the smoke impacted the air in my place of business, I can’t believe it was ever allowed in any public place.”

Laufenberg doesn’t have to worry about filtering the cigarette smoke out of the billiard parlor or changing air filters now that he offers a smoke-free environment. That’s a bottom line savings of hundreds of dollars.

“What I’ve lost in terms of drinkers and smokers, I’ve gained in new customers who would not have come to the Southside Billiard Club because of the smoke,” said Laufenberg. “If they change the smoke-free ordinance, I won’t go back.”

For more information about the Coastal Health District’s smoke-free ordinance and tobacco cessation services, visit Georgia smokers seeking help in quitting tobacco can calling the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line any time at 877-270-STOP (7867).

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