Friday, May 22, 2009

Smoke Free Texas Initiative Far From Snuffed


American Heart Association, Coalition partners to continue fight for public health




AUSTIN, Texas – A comprehensive bill to ban smoking in all indoor workplaces may be dead for the 81st Texas legislative session, but officials of Smoke Free Texas vow the fight to protect public health will continue.

On behalf of Smoke Free Texas, a coalition of public health organizations, the American Heart Association has placed a billboard within the Texas Capitol’s shadow at 3rd and Congress. The billboard reminds lawmakers that according to a recent poll funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association, 68% of Texans still support prohibiting smoking in all indoor work and public places, including restaurants and bars.

Senate Bill 544, authored by Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) passed through the Health and Human Services Committee, but Tuesday fell just short of the two-thirds vote needed to garner a full hearing in the Texas Senate. HB 5, authored by Rep. Myra Crownover (R-Denton) was also passed out of committee but the House was awaiting Senate action first. Similar legislation also failed to pass in the Texas Legislature last session.

Ellis and Crownover said they are likely to introduce the measure again during the next legislative session in two years. And American Heart Association officials say the billboard will serve as a reminder to lawmakers that there is unfinished business when the session ends later this month.

“The fight for smoke-free air is over for this session, but our commitment to the health of Texans isn’t,” said Joel Romo, Regional VP of Advocacy for the American Heart Association South Central Affiliate. “We will continue to work with local communities across the state to expand upon the nearly 30 that have passed comprehensive ordinances to prohibit dangerous secondhand smoke.”

“And in 2011, we will again ask our state leaders to step up to the plate and put Texas into the league of smoke-free states, soon to be 27 strong,” Romo said.

Last week, state lawmakers in Wisconsin and North Carolina passed smoke-free legislation, and the Governors in both states have indicated they will sign the bills into law.

Secondhand smoke kills 53,000 non-smoking Americans annually and is a known cause of heart disease, lung cancer, low birth weight, chronic lung ailments and other health problems. A 2006 report by the U.S. Surgeon General – the most comprehensive scientific report ever produced on the health impact of secondhand smoke – concluded that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

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