By Steve Gillespie / Managing Editor
The Meridian Star
Efforts to make Mississippi 100 percent smoke free in all workplaces will return to the Legislature in January according to representatives with Smokefree Mississippi.
A coalition of more than 100 organizations, Smokefree Mississippi is armed with figures that show public opinion is on the side of a statewide indoor smoking ban.
Last year a poll conducted among likely Mississippi voters by Public Opinion Strategies showed 68 percent agreed workplaces, restaurants, bars and casinos should be smoke free.
Also, Mississippi State University's Social Science Center claims 74.3 percent of Mississippians agree all workplaces, restaurants and bars should be smoke free.
"In 2006 the United States Surgeon General came out with a report that said there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand-smoke," Jennifer Cofer, vice president of public policy with the American Lung Association, said. Those findings were reinforced with another report in 2010.
But, even though 66 of the state's municipalities have become smoke-free through ordinances, including Meridian in 2010, less than 25 percent of Mississippians are protected by law from second-hand smoke according to Smokefree Mississippi.
"There's a groundswell of support out there for smoke-free air policies," Rhonda Lampkin, government relations director with the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi said. "Even if every municipality, town, village, whatever, across the state adopted a comprehensive smoke-free air policy, we would still not be fully covered because approximately 55 percent of the state's population live in unincorporated areas, in rural areas, so a large part of our state would go unprotected — all the more reason for us to enact a comprehensive statewide smoke-free air policy."
Advocates with Smokefree Mississippi also cite studies that compare heart attack admissions in Starkville and Hattiesburg before and after those cities adopted smoke-free ordinances. Daniel Harrison, government relations representative with the Mississippi Hospital Association, says the results of the study demonstrate a substantial decrease in heart attacks, and a substantial increase in cost savings if the state implemented smoke-free laws.
"We hope the first week of the session to see it in front of the public health committee," Harrison said.
The 2013 Regular Session of the Mississippi Legislature convenes at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 8.