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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: More no-smoking policies would benefit businesses, community

There cannot be too many weapons against smoking.

Despite a half-century of warnings about the consequences of tobacco use, 18 percent of Spokane County residents still light up regularly, putting themselves, their families, their neighbors and co-workers at-risk.

Smoking remains the biggest cause of preventable deaths nationally. In Spokane County, cancer of all kinds kills more people than any other cause. Heart disease and chronic lower respiratory disease, both with clear links to smoking, are next.

But efforts to suppress tobacco use have found stubborn enemies in the combined forces of peer pressure and nicotine addiction. The poor and less-educated are especially vulnerable. Yet they can least afford an $8-plus pack of cigarettes, let alone the medical treatment many will need when the cumulative cost of all that puffing or snuffing comes due.

Some of the expense is borne by employers. Smoking may add $763 to the annual medical bills of a smoker compared with a nonsmoker. Smokers are 60 percent more likely to be absent.

For landlords, cleaning up a smoker’s apartment may be $3,000 more expensive than cleaning that of a nonsmoker. Other tenants pick up the tab by paying higher rents.

Yet only 60 percent of apartment units in Spokane were nonsmoking in 2011, even though 74 percent of tenants say that is their housing preference.

So, last month the Spokane Regional Health District released two toolkits intended to help employers and landlords develop policies that will create smoke-free environments.

First, they have to determine how tobacco-free they want to be, up to eliminating tobacco from their premises entirely, setting aside smoking areas, or not hiring or leasing to smokers.

Stakeholders − managers, workers, bargaining units, tenants − should be brought into the process early. Communication is important throughout the process. At implementation, the expectations for compliance must be understood; the ramifications of noncompliance, too.

For employers, there are sample policies from the district itself, Johnson & Johnson and the Washington State University Spokane campus. For landlords, the district provides a smoke-free lease addendum.

Both toolkits include two pages of mostly free resources for those who want to quit.

Also, buried in the Affordable Care Act are provisions that provide for the payment of smoking-cessation services under Medicaid. After Massachusetts included smoking cessation in its Medicaid plans, tobacco use among those clients fell from 38 percent to 28 percent.

Health district officials say they developed the toolkits because businesses were asking for help. Both can be found among the featured topics on its website: www.srhd.org.

They should be valuable to businesses that choose to use them, and the public whose health will be better protected if they are widely adopted.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on opinion under the Topics menu.

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