On July 23, the city of Galveston enacted one of the strongest smoke-free ordinances in the state of Texas. The ordinance, which gives over 57,000 people who live, work and visit Galveston maximum protection from dangerous secondhand smoke exposure, was passed in a 4-2 vote lead by Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas.
Effective January 1, 2010, the comprehensive ordinance includes outdoor city parks. It is the first smoking ordinance to go into effect since the Texas legislature adjourned without passing a similar bill that would have made the entire state smoke-free.
“The scientific evidence is clear — there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke,” said Ruth Leah Finkelstein Suhler, a Galveston Board member for the American Heart Association who testified at the Council meeting. “Smoke-free policies are the most economic and effective protection from secondhand smoke exposure — separate areas, air cleaning or ventilation systems do not eliminate exposure.”
Secondhand smoke exposure kills 53,000 Americans every year. It is a known cause of lung cancer, heart disease, low birth weight, chronic respiratory problems such as asthma, and other health problems.
Smoke-free policies do not affect restaurant revenue or the sale of alcoholic beverages in bars, according to analysis of sales tax data in Texas and other states and according to the 2006 U. S. Surgeon General’s report, which analyzed hundreds of economic impact studies.
The Galveston smoke-free fight would not have been successful without the efforts of dedicated volunteers like Finkelstein. Volunteers from the American Heart Association, the Smoke-Free Texas Coalition, members of the Chamber of Commerce, and others, joined together to contact Council members and engage the Galveston community in the battle.
“Heart disease touches everyone. Being a volunteer not only increases the number of people who help the American Heart Association get the word out, but offers the volunteer the opportunity to learn more about their own heart health through their affiliation with the programs,” said Finkelstein. “It’s all about helping each other and letting others know about choices. We can’t change our genetic makeup but if we know that our genetic heritage makes us prone for certain diseases, it is important to reduce or postpone the likelihood of those diseases from happening.”