It has been more than 40 years since the U.S. Surgeon General’s 1964 report that clearly linked tobacco use with an increased risk of serious disease and premature death. It has been 20 years since the Washington Legislature passed the original Washington Clean Indoor Air Act. With the overwhelming approval of Initiative 901 by Washington voters this year (it passed in every county and with a 63.2 percent majority statewide), we have taken another major step forward to reduce the heavy toll that tobacco use takes on the health of our state’s population.
As of Thursday, tobacco smoking will no longer be legal in any indoor public place or place of employment.
Initiative 901 revised the Washington State Clean Indoor Air Act, originally passed by the Legislature in 1985. The revised law will strongly protect the general public and employees from breathing the toxins contained in second-hand tobacco smoke, which the original law did only in part.
The benefits from this wise action by the voters will be far-reaching and long-lasting. Many thousands of state residents, both adults and children, will benefit in multiple ways. Clean indoor air will become the norm in virtually all indoor public spaces and no employees will be exposed to toxic tobacco fumes for hours a day, as has been true for many in the hospitality industry. Persons with asthma anywhere in the state will have no difficulty finding a restaurant where they can eat without concerns about triggering an attack. Many smokers will decide that the time to quit for good has come and they will succeed. A long list of tobacco-caused illnesses will become less and less common and many people will live longer and healthier lives. It is even possible that the steady and often dramatic increases in health insurance premiums might eventually slow.
It will take some time – probably measured in months, not years – before the changes mandated by Initiative 901 become fully implemented in all indoor public places and places of employment. A certain measure of patience will be necessary. Almost all owners, operators and employers who are affected by Initiative 901 will comply in time. Most will quickly and very willingly post the required signs and determine the no-smoke zones around entrances. Some few will come on board more slowly, but they will. Again, some patience is in order.
Although great progress has been made in reducing tobacco-caused illnesses, tobacco use remains the single most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. In 2005, the voters of Washington realized that the time has come to take another important step to further reduce the ill effects of tobacco use. Please join me in thanking them for making our state an even healthier place to live and work.
Dr. M. Ward Hinds is health officer for the Snohomish Health District.