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Published November 20 2013

Forum editorial: Smokeout still has work to do

In 1976 a group of anti-smoking activists got the idea of having a national day when smokers would be urged to not smoke. From that modest beginning at the California Division of the American Cancer Society emerged The Great American Smokeout, which has been observed every year since then on the third Thursday of November. By any measure, it’s been a success. There is more work to do.

These days, the only people who deny the dire health effects of tobacco use are, well, not bright. Only those who cling to peculiar notions of “personal freedom” and business privilege sans business responsibility dismiss the damage to personal health and public health from tobacco use. They comprise a smaller minority every day, as more enlightened Americans favor laws and regulation to protect individual and public health.

It’s not a new concern. Efforts to restrict smoking in public places go back to 1908 in New York City, where the city council approved a ban on women from smoking anywhere except in their homes. The mayor vetoed the ordinance.

Since then, the nation, often led by states, has moved steadily toward smoke-free environments in public venues and private places that cater to the public, such as restaurants. Today only a handful of states do not have statewide smoking bans. Minnesota approved a ban in 2007. North Dakotans had to go to the polls in 2012 to secure a comprehensive ban after session after session of the Legislature capitulated to the tobacco lobby and refused to enact a statewide ban. Before the 2012 vote, voters in several cities, including Fargo and West Fargo, had pointed the way.

Smoking has not gone away. It won’t anytime soon. About 19 percent of Americans still light up, but that level is way down from the days when up to 60 percent of adults in many states used tobacco in its various forms. Progress has been steady and impressive, and it’s not always been a legislature or ballot measure that drove the issue. In many cities and states, private sector businesses were ahead of public policy in imposing smoking bans.

Credit must go to the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout for keeping the issue in front of Americans. Together with a plethora of medical organizations, public health agencies, schools, attorneys general who were willing to challenge Big Tobacco (and win) and many other efforts, the message has been received. Even those people who smoke for reasons they believe to be legitimate understand what they are doing to themselves by smoking and to others via secondhand smoke. Given the unassailable science and medical evidence, how could they not know?

And so to that dwindling group, today’s Smokeout says: “Give it up for the day. Try to quit.” If a few do, that’s more progress.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.