Nearly all researchers agree that smoking cigarettes causes early death for more than 400,000 Americans per year -- and also kills an estimated 46,000 nonsmokers who breathe stray fumes from smokers. Secondhand smoke causes about $10 billion in preventable U.S. medical bills annually. That's why, step by step, indoor smoking in public places relentlessly is being banned across America.
Remember the angry protests when Kanawha County first cracked down on indoor smoking in 1995, then expanded the ban to restaurants in 2004, and extended it again to bars in 2008? Furious resistance occurred and recurred -- but slowly faded.
Now the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that restaurant business actually grew slightly in West Virginia counties that banned restaurant smoking. Food service employment increased 1 percent in no-smoking places, compared to counties that still allow puffing.
"More people are interested in working in an environment with clean air," Nasandra Wright of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department said about the CDC report. "There are a lot more health benefits. Tobacco use damages nearly every part of the body."
As the old joke says: A thousand Americans stop smoking every day -- by dying.
A couple of years ago, research by the Kanawha-Charleston agency found that heart attack hospitalizations in the state capital region fell 37 percent from 2000 to 2008. Although this wonderful improvement can't be attributed solely to the smoking ban, it's likely that smoke-free living helped the change.
We wish the Legislature would extend the Kanawha ban statewide, instead of letting 55 different county health boards set 55 different rules. This hopscotch method produces unfairness -- for example, Kanawha's large Cross Lanes casino cannot have a smoking room, but the state's other casinos aren't restricted. Statewide uniformity would be better.
Nicotine is one of the world's most addictive drugs. Teens who become hooked on smoking have extreme difficulty breaking the addiction. Cigarette manufacturers are essentially drug-pushers. Their profits depend on getting more young people hooked and keeping them hooked. That's why this newspaper supports higher cigarette taxes, to save teens from starting the expensive and pointless habit.
Gradually, more Americans are renouncing tobacco. Today, addiction occurs most among lower-income, less-educated people. It's shameful that West Virginia has the worst rate of smoking.Meanwhile, it's good news that Kanawha County restaurant jobs weren't curtailed by the ban on indoor puffing.