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Health Department

Dr. Paul's Tennessean Guest Column - October 1, 2009
Banned Smoking in Most Public Places

On October 1, Tennessee will take a significant step toward better health when it joins 24 other states that have banned smoking in most public places. Thanks to Governor Bredesen and our legislators for their leadership in passing this important law.

Many restaurant and bar owners welcome the new law and are already removing ashtrays and hanging "no smoking" signs. Some may be still wondering if going smoke-free will be good for business and hoping to find a way around it. Others may be confused about how the new law will affect them.

The new law requires most indoor public spaces to go smoke-free. One exception is age-restricted businesses, which will need to have someone check ID at the door at all hours and verify that everyone entering is 21 years old or over. Another exception is businesses enclosed on one or more sides with a garage-type door, but smoking has to stop when any of these doors are closed.

As Metro's Public Health Director, I'm urging businesses to go smoke-free rather than pursue one of the exceptions. It's better for the health of your employees and customers. It will save lives. And judging from what has happened in other places and the shrinking number of smokers, it probably won't hurt business.

Smoke free workplaces protect employees. Nonsmokers are dying every day in Tennessee as a result of other people's tobacco smoke. This includes deaths of family members, of employees exposed on the job, and babies of pregnant mothers who smoke. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified secondhand smoke as a Class A carcinogen because it contains more than 50 cancer-causing chemicals. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has concluded that secondhand smoke is an occupational carcinogen. A smoke free workplace removes the risks from on-the-job exposure for employees.

Banning smoking also protects customers. There are reports from Helena Montana, Bowling Green, Ohio, Pueblo Colorado, Italy, and Ireland that admissions to hospitals for coronary disease went down significantly when smoking in bars and restaurants was banned.

The number of customers that really want to smoke is decreasing. Here in Davidson County a 2005 survey showed only one in five (22 percent) Nashville residents smoke, down from 26 percent in 2001. Half of smokers said they had tried to quit in the preceding year. Nationally, a Gallup survey taken just two months ago shows 21 percent of American adults smoke, the lowest number in 60 years. Doing the math, about 90 percent of adults are nonsmokers, former smokers, or smokers trying to quit. Smoke free bars and restaurants as a result of this law will appeal to nonsmokers who now stay home to avoid smoke, and can help smokers kick the habit without staying home.

Experience in a number of other states shows that smoking bans have been good—or at least not bad--for business. As one example, an analysis by the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, found restaurant sales went up seven percent one year after the state's smoke free law took effect in 2003.

Public health is what we do to keep ourselves from getting sick and dying, and part of that is cleaning up the air we breathe, both indoors and out. Businesses that skip the exemptions and go smoke-free October 1 are taking a very positive step and saving lives. Here are important sources that provide details about the ban. Please check the Tennessee Department of Health's website at, or call the Metro Public Health Department's Smoke-Free Hotline at (615) 340-2240.

William S. Paul, MD, MPH
Director of Health
Metro Public Health Department of Nashville/Davidson County