Tobacco Controls Spreading, Anti-Smoking Groups Say

By Matt Purple | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

( - The desire for tobacco control in America is rapidly accelerating, despite the best efforts of tobacco companies and conservative critics, according to several anti-smoking activists.

In Wisconsin, legislators are mulling over banning smoking in workplaces. In Illinois, such a ban took place at the beginning of this year, with no exceptions for any businesses. Even in conservative Texas, 18 cities have voted to prohibit tobacco in public locations.

"We think it's going to be a big year for our issues," Peter Fisher, a vice president for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told Cybercast News Service.

Anti-tobacco legislation, once the province of coastal cities like San Francisco and New York, has spread to the heartland and seems wildly popular among even conservative state legislatures and city councils.

Fisher pointed to the Nebraska State Legislature, which recently passed a ban on smoking in public businesses. The bill will now be considered by Gov. Dave Heinemann.

"We're at the tipping point with public smoking," Patrick Reynolds, president of the Foundation for a Smoke Free America, told Cybercast News Service.

According to Reynolds, 23 states currently have laws prohibiting smoking in bars and restaurants, and 21 of those bans have been passed over the past six years.

"The support for smoke-free laws has been overwhelming," Annie Tergen of Americans for Non-Smokers Rights, told Cybercast News Service. "Right now, almost 60 percent of the American population lives in a city or state with a strong smoke-free law. A decade ago, this was far more uncommon."

Meanwhile, 43 states have raised tobacco taxes over the past six years - and 10 have done it twice. In New York City, the combined state and local tax burden amounts to $3 per pack of cigarettes.

It's bad news for smokers and for citizens who support an individual's right to smoke.

"Once a majority of the country became non-smoking - which happened somewhere in the '90s - then politicians pick up on that and begin to feel morally superior to smokers," Peter van Doren, a senior fellow with the libertarian Cato Institute, told Cybercast News Service. "It's a recipe to get government to do stuff, but it doesn't mean it's right."

Van Doren said tobacco control was a perfect example of minority rights becoming co-opted by those of the majority.

"Once majorities come out opposed to other people's bad behavior ... there's not much that holds them in check," he said.

Anti-tobacco activists said they have had the most success at the state and local levels, although tobacco control was also gaining ground in the federal government.

"At the federal level, we have significant co-sponsorship and federal support for passing FDA control over tobacco," Dan Smith, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, told Cybercast News Service . "This is something that we in the tobacco community have wanted for many years."

Smith attributed the groundswell of support for anti-tobacco legislation to changing social norms that find smoking to be increasingly unacceptable.

"You go into a bar and restaurant and you expect it now to be smoke-free. And I would say five or 10 years ago that was not the case," he said.

"No one's arguing about the science anymore," Tergen said. "We know that second-hand smoke kills people and it's extremely dangerous for people, especially in smoky workplaces."

The perception that second-hand smoke kills people is precisely the problem, according to smokers' rights advocates.

Gary Nolan, united regional director of the Smokers Club, told Cybercast News Service that the use of allegedly fraudulent second-hand smoke statistics had hoodwinked the public into supporting tobacco bans and taxes.

"You tell a lie long enough, as the old Nazi saying goes, and people will believe it," he said.

Nolan pointed to an oft-cited study in Helena, Mont., which allegedly found that a smoking ban reduced heart attack rates. He said the results failed to support that conclusion and that researchers took into account every heart attack case rather than just those of smokers.

Despite their success, anti-smoking activists said there was plenty of work to be done. They pointed to state tobacco education programs, which they say have not been funded appropriately.

"The future is a smoke-free country where in public places, you can go and it's smoke free," Smith said. "I also think the future is much higher taxes on tobacco products."