There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke, but the reality is women make up nearly two-thirds of front-of-the-house positions in restaurants (more than one-third of which are women of color)—positions which are most likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke for non-smokers, and the carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke can keep the developing baby from getting enough oxygen.
Tobacco smoke also contains other chemicals that can harm unborn babies, which makes prioritizing smokefree communities important in efforts to ensure babies, mothers, and families are healthy.
There are 164 smokefree communities in Mississippi, but only four of those communities are on the Gulf Coast. According to the Americans for Nonsmokers Rights Foundation (ANR), enacting a local smokefree indoor air law is the best way to protect people from secondhand smoke exposure. ANR offers several steps to get started:
- Assess current laws. Find out what the current smokefree law is in your community. In some instances, there may be no laws whatsoever relating to smoking control, in which case you will be starting with a clean slate.
- Form a coalition. Strong coalitions accurately reflect your community. They are broad and inclusive, with meaningful representation of the people and organizations most affected by secondhand smoke in workplaces, multi-unit housing, and public venues.
- Establish a database of supporters. Establish a database of contact information, not only for coalition members and supporters, but also for community organizations, business leaders, public officials, and the media. Keep names, addresses, and email information in one database.
- Educate your community. Educate then legislate! Before going public with your proposed law, you need to lay the groundwork for it by conducting an effective public education campaign. Spend an adequate amount of time – several months to a year – on a public education campaign.
- Gauge community support. Public opinion surveys, asking residents how they feel about secondhand smoke and smokefree laws, are evidence of the demand for smokefree air and are persuasive to legislators when you approach them about a proposed law.
- Draft your ordinance. Consult the ANR model ordinance. Pay particular attention to common mistakes when drafting the provisions of the ordinance. Agree on deal breakers at this stage (e.g., ventilation, hours or minors provisions, trigger schemes, etc.).
- Find a good sponsor. Find a city council member or board of health supervisor to sponsor the ordinance. Maintain communication with your sponsor and ensure that he or she will accurately represent your coalition goals.