July 14, 2013

Editorial: Message getting through


---- — It’s the 10th anniversary of New York state’s amended Clean Indoor Air Act, originally passed in 1989. This legislation has done more than most people ever give it credit for.

Smoking has a schizophrenic history in the United States. Early on, tobacco was one of the most lucrative crops produced in the country, relied on heavily for its tax and trade advantages.

In recent decades, however, it has emerged as the single most destructive seed we place in our ground, killing far more of our citizens than anything else we plant.

In the 1930s, the connection between smoking and respiratory problems was beginning to be pieced together. That momentum built through the ‘40s and ‘50s, and, finally, President Kennedy empaneled a commission in 1962 to study for concrete evidence.

In 1964, the findings were announced, to great fanfare: Smokers had a 70 percent greater chance of early death from lung cancer than non-smokers.

Still, it was common for smokers to puff away right next to non-smokers in as close quarters as adjacent airplane seats or the next booth in restaurants.

But the case was beginning to build. In the next decade, airlines began to segregate smokers from non-smokers — though in the long tube of an aircraft, that scarcely mattered. Restaurants and bars began to enforce similar separations.

While the effect was negligible, public sentiment was beginning to turn against smoking. It was not the cool pastime that Hollywood was portraying (and still does, by the way, if you heed the work of the Reality Check youth anti-smoking movement).

Now, smokers are almost pariahs, having to virtually seclude themselves when out of their own homes or vehicles, protecting others from the lethal effects of their smoke.

Besides the state law that prohibits smoking in most public sites, Clinton and Essex counties have already banned tobacco from most of their property, and Franklin County is moving in that direction as well. Many businesses, including Champlain Centre mall in Plattsburgh, are also protecting their buildings and grounds from smoke pollution. State parks are off limits to tobacco.

Passers-by view smokers outside of buildings, such as the CVPH Medical Center staff along Cornelia Street in Plattsburgh, as examples of what it has become in the general public’s mind: a habit restricted to areas far from the lungs of others.

The change in public attitudes has been hard won — by legislation and by effective public relations and education efforts from groups such as government health departments.

It’s hard to even remember what it was like before the smoking bans. Do you recall how you could leave a bar or restaurant reeking of smoke even if you never touched a cigarette? Remember gagging as you passed through a group of puffing smokers outside mall entrances?

Smoking is a tenacious habit, but help is available by many methods for those who wish to quit.

We have lived 10 years now with the cleaner air supplied by anti-smoking laws, and public tolerance for the remaining smokers is running out.