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Reducing Our Exposure

Fewer people willing to tolerate secondhand smoke
Mardel Chinburg
Mardel Chinburg

I strongly urge Eugene’s leaders to ban tobacco smoking in public areas. As a longtime resident of Eugene and outdoor enthusiast, I appreciate our many opportunities for recreation.  As I cycle along the Willamette River bike trail, I also love to see how many other people enjoy our parks and public places. Having safe places for people to exercise or have family picnics while their children run and play are essential to our community’s well-being and liveability. By making downtown and city parks smoke-free, Eugene will once again be in the forefront of communities working together to protect residents from the harms of secondhand smoke. 

In the 2014 report “The Health Consequences of Smoking: 50 Years of Progress,” the U.S. surgeon general confirmed that there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure. Amazingly, even brief exposure can be harmful to health. Although this may be a little-known fact, it is becoming more and more popular for people to prefer to not be around tobacco smoke, indoors and out. According to recent surveys, three out of four Lane County residents believe it is important to be protected from secondhand smoke outdoors.

Many of us can remember a time when almost everyone smoked, and doctors even promoted smoking in advertisements. The reduction in tobacco use in the U.S. over the past 50 years demonstrates the importance of regulations and policies to help protect people from the dangers of tobacco and second-hand smoke. In 1965, almost half of American adults smoked. Today, due in large part to the very type of policies that Eugene is considering, the overall smoking rate is 18 percent, an all-time low.

Social norms around tobacco have dramatically changed thanks to years and years of health promotion and ensuring the expansion of tobacco-free environments. Eugene banned smoking in all workplaces, restaurants and bars in 2005 (and, we were one of the first!). Taking a further stand against tobacco here in Eugene will be good for all smokers and non-smokers, and will contribute to the future health of all Oregonians. 

Despite the past downward trend in cigarette smoking rates, tobacco use is still our county’s leading cause of death and disease. Our nation continues to rack up $96 billion in direct medical expenses and $97 billion in lost productivity annually due to smoking. Here in Lane County, over $250 million was spent on medical care and lost productivity due to tobacco-related causes in 2013. At any given time in Lane County, there are about 14,000 people ill with a serious tobacco-related disease.

The trends of lives lost, and billions of dollars wasted, needs to stop. By reducing children’s exposure to the strong visual cue of other people smoking, they will be less likely to grow up to become life-long smokers. Gallup polls show that almost nine out of every 10 persons who smoke regret having started smoking, and if they could go back in time would choose to never pick up the habit. Every year over half of all people who smoke make at least one attempt to quit. Most do not succeed.

If for no other reason, creating tobacco-free public spaces here in Eugene is a protection our children deserve. It is a challenge to find a balance between protecting the common good while also respecting the individual right to smoke. In July 2015 our community will face change as we adapt to the legalization of marijuana. However, in that smoking matter, the proposed regulations prohibit pot smoking and use in public places — indoors and out.  If it’s a given that we be protected from marijuana smoke, why should tobacco be treated any differently?