Saturday, June 9, 2001

Campaign educates on
effects of smoking

By Helen Altonn

The television spot catches your attention with, "You don't know me but we've met. I'm your waitress."

She goes on to say that eight hours of serving coffee and drinks "is almost like smoking a pack a day."

The 30-second public service spot, focusing on secondhand smoke in restaurants, is co-sponsored by the state Department of Health and Local 5 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union.

The union has had calls from members thanking it for trying to provide them with a healthy work environment, said Julian Lipsher, director of the Health Department's Tobacco Prevention and Education Project.

Efforts to get a city ordinance to prohibit smoking in restaurants, bars and nightclubs have not been successful, he noted. So a different approach is being used to discourage smoking, he said.

The Health Department allocated $850,000 of the state's tobacco settlement money for a one-year media campaign, starting June 1, to make smokers aware of what they are doing, Lipsher said.

The department is taking a multipronged approach, with ads at malls, on the bus, in parking lots and elsewhere, in addition to radio and television, he said.

It has also joined with the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaii for ads at the stadium.

In the current spot, waitresses ask people to request seating in a nonsmoking section, "and we promise to get your order right."

Lipsher said: "Since the current law is consumer-driven, the focus is to educate the consumer. We're taking a soft approach, presenting people with information about long-term exposure and asking them to be considerate, both to themselves, the people they eat with and who serve them."

The spot points out that waitresses have the highest risk of dying of heart disease and lung cancer than women in any other profession.

A California study showed waitresses have a rate of dying from lung cancer four times higher and a rate of dying from heart disease 2 1/2 times higher than women in any other occupation.

Waiters and waitresses have a 50 percent to 90 percent higher risk of dying from lung cancer because of exposure to tobacco smoke in restaurants.

Involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke at work makes restaurant workers 1 1/2 to two times more likely to die of lung cancer, according to the study.

"We get a fair number of complaints from the eating public -- people who are bothered, annoyed and put at risk because they are respiratory-sensitive," Lipsher said. "Smoking and nonsmoking sections have an imaginary line between the two."

Secondhand smoke during an eight-hour restaurant shift is almost equivalent to smoking one pack a day, even if a person does not smoke, he said.

Lipsher said the facts about dangers of environmental tobacco smoke are known, and it's "now up to public policy" to make changes to protect people.

The Health Department will have other TV and radio spots in the summer on issues relating to smoking and target populations, he said.

The department is targeting young families with the message, "If you smoke, your kids will smoke."

Pregnant young mothers and male impotency are other targets.

"We're trying to get the message to as many people in as many venues as possible," Lipsher said. "We have lots of different messages. The bottom-line, ultimate question is, Will it reduce smoking rates in years to come?"

Lipsher noted concerns that banning smoking in bars and restaurants would send "a bad message" to the visitor industry.

But gross tax receipts in California show no loss of revenue since smoking was banned in bars and restaurants, he said.

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