Every level of government was slow to legislate warnings, restrictions and/or bans on cigarette smoking. Not so long ago, despite research correlating smoking and health problems, companies had no mandate to let consumers in on the dangers via warnings on packaging. Cigarettes were advertised regularly on TV. Teens could purchase packs of smokes in vending machines and step outside to partake during school. And, of course, secondhand smoke was perpetually a part of everyone’s restaurant or air travel experience.
All of that is unimaginable today. In 1965, the federal government mandated that cigarette packaging include a warning that smoking cigarettes may be hazardous to your health. The Marlboro man and his ilk have been banned from advertising on TV and radio since 1971. In 1980, finally, a national minimum age to smoke (16) was initiated. It was raised to 18 in 1987 and 21 last year. Cigarette vending machines were outlawed in 2010. Smoking was banned on short flights in 1988 and all flights in 2000. In Maryland, smoking was banned in public places other than restaurants and bars in 1995, with restaurants and bars included in the ban in 2008.
Smoking rates have fallen precipitously thanks to the legislation above. In 1965, 42.4% of adults smoked cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number is now 14%. That’s tremendous progress, but it comes after millions have died because of their habit. Some 200,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed each year and some 150,000 people die of it each year. Approximately 16 million Americans suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and around 3.5 million have emphysema. Smoking is the top risk factor for all of the above. Had we been more proactive in passing legislation to warn, restrict and ban cigarettes sooner, how many of those deaths or debilitating diseases could’ve been prevented?
All of that is preamble to our kudos to the city of Westminster for considering the banning of vaping in enclosed public spaces. We would be in favor of such a ban. While restaurant owners may bristle, keep in mind, they also fought against the cigarette smoking ban that proved to be generally good for business.
In response to a request from two citizens, the Westminster Common Council discussed whether the city would benefit from enacting an ordinance similar to Maryland laws for tobacco smoking in public places at its Dec. 9 meeting and then directed the city’s attorney to draft an ordinance modeled on the state’s laws and a bill in Howard County that restricts vaping where smoking is prohibited. Health experts have issued nationwide warnings of potential health risks related to vaping. According to CDC data, more than 50 people have died after being hospitalized with e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injuries.
Do we know, for sure, that vaping — or contact with secondhand vapor — is harmful? No. There simply isn’t enough data yet on this relatively new phenomenon. But we should absolutely err on the side of public safety. And on the side of making people feel comfortable out in public.
“While I’m a big fan of personal freedoms, I think where it ends is when there are people that can’t really get away from whatever you’re doing,” Westminster Mayor Joe Dominick said, noting that an often forgotten group in this discussion are employees of bars and restaurants who have little ability to avoid secondhand vapor.
Councilman Kevin Dayhoff voiced support for the ban, saying, “I think before it’s all over, we’re going to find out that secondhand vaping is just as bad, if not worse, than tobacco.”
And even if it is found that the secondhand vapor won’t kill you, it can still be annoying and even intolerable for many.
“For those of us who have tons of allergies," Councilwoman Ann Thomas Gilbert said, “we really don’t want to smell it.”
Westminster residents may give feedback to the city by attending city meetings or by emailing comments with a name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org or via mail to City Clerk US Mail: 56 West Main Street, Suite 1, Westminster, Maryland 21157.