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News Summary

Ten years later, we're healthier

Publication Date: 2012-01-29
  • Author:MIKE KIRBY
  • Publication:SUN CHRONICLE

Ten years ago, one of the hottest issues in the Attleboro area was smoke bans.

The Norton Board of Health led the way, voting 10 years ago next month to become the area's first community to ban the use of tobacco in workplaces, bars and restaurants. Wrentham, Norfolk, Plainville and North Attleboro followed suit later in the year.

Other communities, including Attleboro, took a slightly different approach, prohibiting children from entering a restaurant where smoking was allowed.

Smoke bans seemed like a radical idea at the time. Smoking and eating - and, especially, smoking, drinking and eating - seemed to go hand in hand. The protests were loud. How could smoking be banned in public? Weren't smoking and non-smoking areas in a restaurant good enough? Didn't most restaurants have smoke-eating ventilation systems? Wasn't that helpful? Don't smokers have rights?

But common sense won out. There really is no way to escape the cloud of second-hand cigarette smoke. More and more communities prohibited smoking until, in July 2004, Massachusetts ended the patchwork enforcement by imposing a statewide ban on smoking. Tobacco use in workplaces, bars and restaurants were officially banned. The protests from eating establishments - "We'll lose all our customers if you ban smoking" - simply went away. The playing field was leveled, and that prediction never materialized.

Doesn't it seem longer than 10 years since we've had to put up with smoke when we go out to eat? Wouldn't it be shocking now if someone lit up a cigarette in a restaurant? Customers would be appalled, and the smoker would be quickly escorted away. I say this, of course, as someone who has never smoked. In the rare occasions I'm in the midst of smoking now, I feel my lungs tighten up, like I have to go home, throw my clothes in the wash and take a shower.

But, really, why did non-smokers have to tolerate that in the past? Why did non-smokers have to risk their health due to others' bad choices?

In retrospect, why were there such protests? How could the public have not seen that smoking should not be allowed in public? We're never going back on this issue.

And this is not just a Massachusetts thing. As of the end of 2011, 27 states encompassing roughly half of America's population of more than 300 million people had complete smoking bans. Nearly 80 percent of Americans live in states with at least some smoking restrictions.

In my view, this is one of our society's greatest signs of progress. While I still see too much smoking - especially among young people - tobacco use in general is down, and illnesses related to second-hand smoke are diminishing.

Ten years later, we are healthier.

And we don't have to run home and take a shower or throw our clothes in the washing machine whenever we go out to eat.

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