On October 12th, all eleven Mayors of Hamilton County, TN are launching a major “Smoke Free Community” initiative intended to improve the health and economy of the entire county. The Mayors are asking citizens and visitors to not smoke in parks and public spaces, especially around children and those with health conditions that might be aggravated by tobacco smoke.
“Tobacco still remains the leading preventable cause of death in Hamilton County,” says County Mayor Jim Coppinger, the mayoral team leader of this health initiative, “More than 10 times as many U.S. citizens have died prematurely from cigarette smoking than have died in all the wars fought by the United States during its history. In Tennessee, 32 people die each day due to smoking.”
Besides the health consequences of smoking and smoke exposure, tobacco-related medical expenses are an enormous financial drain on the area’s economy. The tax burden on Hamilton County residents funneled into governmental smoking-related expenditures is approximately $1,100 per household, regardless of whether they smoke or not.
Tennessee is currently ranked 47th in adult smoking ahead of only Mississippi, Arkansas, and Kentucky. Annual health care costs in Tennessee due to smoking are $2.67 billion, and lost productivity due to smoking in TN is $3.59 billion. By encouraging and supporting tobacco-free lifestyles and environments, the Mayors hope to improve the health of all our residents and begin to regain the dollars needlessly lost to tobacco-related illnesses.
The Mayors’ initiative primarily seeks to eliminate exposure to second- and third-hand smoke. Second-hand smoke is from the smoldering end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar and the smoke exhaled from the lungs. Third-hand smoke is the chemical and odor residue on a smoker’s hands, mouth, hair, clothing, car upholstery, pets, and furniture that is known to be absorbed, ingested, or inhaled by others. Third-hand smoke poses a health threat to nursing infants and children who are exposed.
“Second-hand and third-hand smoke contains almost all the same toxic compounds as first-hand cigarette smoke,” explains Becky Barnes, Administrator for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, “There is no safe level of exposure for anyone, even if you are outside.”
Smoke free policies in places frequented by our youth are endorsed by the CDC as an effective means of youth tobacco prevention. Ninety percent of adult smokers had their first cigarette before the age of 18. Child development specialists stress the importance of modeling positive behaviors to youth as their primary way of learning. The more adults they see having fun and enjoying life without the use of tobacco or e-cigarettes, the more likely they too will adopt smoke-free lifestyles. In 2014, e-cigarette use (vaping) surpassed traditional cigarette usage among teens.
The initiative is financed by Tobacco Settlement funds and will not use any additional tax dollars.
Janie Burley, Tobacco Settlement Fund Coordinator for the Health Department at (423) 209-8182 or JanieB@HamiltonTN.gov
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