State should set minimum restrictions on smoking
A survey taken for an antismoking group has found that 85 percent of Hawaii voters want statewide restrictions on smoking.
HAWAII counties have made significant progress in recent decades to combat smoking in public places and offices. Opponents of secondhand smoke now are pushing for a comprehensive state law
to provide greater protection for nonsmokers. Minimum statewide standards would be an improvement but should not preclude counties from enforcing stricter rules and smoking bans in unique settings.
Smoking restrictions, a state campaign against tobacco and increased cigarette taxes -- now $1.80 a pack and headed for $2.60 a pack in 2008 -- have resulted in decreased smoking statewide. Hawaii has the third-lowest adult cigarette smoking rate in the nation at 17.2 percent, behind Utah and California.
However, 41 percent of people in Honolulu work in an environment where smoking is allowed, according to the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaii. That is surprising, since all enclosed workplaces on Oahu and the Big Island and workplaces with more than five employees per workshift are off-limits to smoking. Only Maui County allows smoking in workplaces other than banks, stores and other businesses frequented by the public.
Studies in the 1990s concluding that secondhand smoke creates a significant risk to smokers were debunked because they ignored standards by epidemiologists. However, recent and more credible studies have found that secondhand smoke is more harmful than smoke inhaled by a smoker.
A recent study found that a lit cigarette in an ashtray emits larger molecules that are more likely to be poisonous than smoke from a cigarette being directly inhaled. Suzaynn Shick, a University of California cell biologist, spent three years studying documents at a secret Philip Morris laboratory in Germany and told of the findings last month at a Tobacco Control Conference in Honolulu.
A recent coalition survey found that 85 percent of Hawaii's registered voters believe there should be a state law prohibiting smoking in all enclosed workplaces. That is not surprising, since that approximately reflects the percentage of adults in the state who don't smoke.
The new studies, which indicate that secondhand smoke has developmental, respiratory, carcinogenic and cardiovascular effects, warrant smoking prohibitions in enclosed areas. A minimum statewide standard is justified as long as it does not infringe on smokers' right to damage their own lungs.
Counties should retain the authority to allow or prohibit smoking in outdoor areas. For example, smoking is allowed in open-air seating areas of restaurants in Honolulu but not on the Big Island, although smoking is banned at Honolulu Zoo, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, Koko Crater Botanical Garden and the Waikiki Shell, according to the coalition's online review of county laws.