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August 29, 2005

Health Charities Ask Hennepin County Board to Measure Economic Impact of Secondhand Smoke Law on Entire Community, Not Just Bars and Restaurants

smoking.gif The leaders of three of Minnesota's most prominent health improvement non-profit organizations today urged the Hennepin County Board to add community health impact to its planned review of the County's new secondhand smoke.

Last month, the Hennepin County Board called for a study of the new secondhand smoke law, focusing on changes in restaurant and bar sales since the law went into effect March 31, 2005. In a letter delivered to Hennepin County Board members today, leaders of local chapters of the American Cancer Society (ACS), American Lung Association (ALA), and American Heart Association (AHA) asked that additional economic and public health data be gathered to measure the impacts on the entire community, not just bar and restaurant owners.

The health leaders urged the Board to consider the impact the law will have on other economic issues, such as worker absenteeism and retention, facility maintenance costs, and employee and employer health care costs. They point to a detailed analysis released last week by the national Society of Actuaries (SOA), which found that direct medical costs and indirect costs, such as lost wages and costs related to disabilities, amount to nearly $10 billion every year. The Board study, as originally discussed, would not include any broader economic impacts considered by the Society of Actuaries. A link to the entire SOA report can be found here: http://www.soa.org/ccm/content/areas-of-practice/life- insurance/research/economic-effects-of-environmental-tobacco-smoke-SOA/

"The Board represents all citizens," said Peggy Drenckhahn, executive director of American Lung Association of Minnesota. "Therefore, it only makes sense to consider the costs that all citizens bear from secondhand smoke, not just the costs to bar and restaurant owners."

Beyond economic impacts, the health leaders also urged Board members to consider health impacts of the protections. Specifically, the letter urged Commissioners to consider three health-related questions: 1) Has the law successfully removed lethal toxins and carcinogens from Hennepin County restaurants and bars? 2) What will be the long- and short-term public preventative health impacts of removing these pollutants from restaurants and bars? 3) If the law is rolled back, what will be the health impact on people who have heart diseases, asthma, bronchitis, or are pregnant?

"When this issue was originally debated, health improvement was the primary reason our leaders gave for their support," said Shannon Guernsey, advocacy manager, American Cancer Society, Midwest Division. "That issue is every bit as important today as it was the day the original vote was taken, and this analysis need to reflect that fact."

The letter comes as Hennepin County staff are in the process of designing the analysis that will ultimately be presented to the Board. It is not yet known when the study will be presented to the Board.

"To make balanced decisions, the Board needs balanced information," said Peter Ries, vice president, Twin Cities Metro American Heart Association. "If the study only includes bar and restaurant sales, it effectively says they are more important than the general public. We want the Board to consider all of the impacts of the law, not just one."

AHA, ALA and ACS are part of a broad coalition of community organizations supporting secondhand smoke protections in Minnesota. The coalition is backed by 73 percent of Hennepin County residents who, according to a recent survey conducted by the Melman Group, favor the ordinance.

Posted by Tom Troceen