What was once a debated issue is no longer argued — exposure to secondhand smoke is both deadly to workers and patrons of businesses, and costly to those businesses that allow it to occur. Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals and at least 69 known carcinogens. We are still losing over 45,000 people each year due to secondhand smoke exposure; secondhand smoke raises the risk of heart disease and lung cancer by 30 percent in nonsmokers.
Those are not just numbers; they represent real people who are affected by involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke in Alaska workplaces. One such person is Monica Lettner, a musician whose livelihood and career depend on working in bars and restaurants where, in some parts of Alaska, smoking is still allowed.
"I was a smoker once upon a time, but I believed then as I do now, that no one should have to be an involuntary smoker," Lettner said. "I'm also a professional musician. I sing and play guitar, solo and with a band, and I coach young girls aspiring to be rock artists as well."
"Musicians live gig to gig, and play wherever they are invited, mostly in bars," Lettner explained. "Not only can we not choose to not play in smoky bars and still survive, but we also breathe in much more air than our listeners sitting on their barstools. We breathe secondhand smoke for hours a night simply to do our jobs. Now I'm lucky to be protected when I play at home in Anchorage, but almost anywhere else in the state, I'm back to secondhand smoking. I'm passionate about music and want to encourage young people to pursue rock music, but I also want them to be safe and healthy wherever they have to play in our state. A statewide smoke-free workplace law would protect my health and theirs now and into the future," Lettner said.
We missed a great opportunity this session with the stalling of Senate Bill 1. Fortunately, we have another chance. More than 1,000 Alaska businesses and organizations wanted this law to protect their workers and patrons from secondhand smoke. Several thousands of Alaskan individuals want a statewide smoke-free workplace law; 69 percent of Alaskans polled, even a majority of smokers.
The extended session of the Legislature offers our legislators another opportunity to protect Alaskans' health. Members of the Smoke-Free Alaska Coalition — which include the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, AARP, the American Lung Association, the Mat-Su Health Foundation, the Alaska Native Health Board and others — strongly urge Alaska legislators to protect our business workers and patrons by passing SB 1.
Article VII of the Alaska State Constitution directs the Legislature to "provide for the promotion and protection of public health." SB 1 gives legislators perhaps their greatest opportunity to fulfill that sworn duty.
Marge Stoneking is executive director of the American Lung Association in Alaska.
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