Guest Column: Smoke-free Illinois–a breakthrough in public health

Illinois is on the cusp of a historic public health breakthrough.

Based on the recent action by the Illinois General Assembly to pass the Smoke-Free Illinois Act, coupled with Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s public commitment to “enthusiastically” sign the bill into law, all Illinois workers, residents and visitors soon will have the opportunity to breathe cleaner air when the law goes into effect January 2008.

Tens of thousands of American Cancer Society volunteers in partnership with thousands of other coalition partners across the state of Illinois worked for a very long time to make this day a reality. May 3 in Springfield, nearly 1,000 American Cancer Society volunteers were thrilled when Dr. Eric Whitaker, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, reiterated to them, on behalf of the governor, that the Smoke-Free Illinois Act would be signed into law.

This groundbreaking legislation will improve the state of public health in Illinois by prohibiting smoking in all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, beginning in January.

The American Cancer Society salutes the 73 members of the Illinois House and the 34 state senators who defied Big Tobacco and embraced a healthier, more cancer-free Illinois by voting “Yes” for the Smoke-Free Illinois Act. And we salute Gov. Blagojevich for his commitment to make Smoke-Free Illinois the law of the land. Illinois will now join 24 other states in mandating that everyone deserves the right to breathe clean, smoke-free air, no matter where they live or work.

Secondhand smoke is a major public health issue and the third leading cause of preventable death in America and in Illinois. Here’s what we can look forward to with the passage of the Smoke-Free Illinois Act:

Healthier workplaces: One eight-hour shift in a smoke-filled workplace is the equivalent of smoking 16 cigarettes.

Reduced cancer incidence and mortality rates: Workers exposed to secondhand smoke are 20 to 30 percent more likely to develop cancer.

Improved public health: Secondhand smoke causes heart attacks, pneumonia, lung cancer, coronary heart disease, emphysema, acute respiratory infections, ear disease and asthma. In Illinois, about 2,900 die each year—that’s eight people every day—from exposure to secondhand smoke.

Lower health care costs: The cost of diagnosis and treatment of the uninsured for diseases caused by exposure to secondhand smoke falls on the taxpayer-funded public health care system, as well as on those employers who provide health care coverage for their employees. Workers in the hospitality industry in particular are the least likely in our society to enjoy health insurance coverage. The Society of Actuaries estimates non-smokers’ exposure to secondhand smoke costs America $10 billion annually.

While it took a lot of work to get us to this point, in many ways, the real work has yet to begin. As we’ve already learned from our local smoke-free efforts over the last two years, proper implementation of smoke-free policies requires time for businesses and citizens to be properly educated about the new law, and for government agencies to construct processes that allow clear and effective enforcement. By signing the bill quickly, Gov. Blagojevich can help ensure a smooth implementation of this new, life-saving policy.

The facts are clear: the Smoke-Free Illinois Act will save lives, prevent disease, diminish suffering and reduce health care costs. That’s great news for all Illinoisans!

To find out more, visit www.smokefreeillinois.NET.

Dr. Clement Rose is president of the American Cancer Society, Illinois Division.

from the July 11-17, 2007, issue

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