Ads target secondhand dangers
Anti-smoking groups are embarking on a new, statewide education campaign this week and focusing on the dangers of secondhand smoke.
Health officials will be in Duluth today to re-emphasize the harm of secondhand smoke. While Duluth and Moose Lake recently passed smoking ordinances and other Minnesota communities are considering similar measures, those behind the latest effort say there remains confusion about the issue.
Dr. Richard Hurt, board chair of the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco and director of the Nicotine Dependence Center at the Mayo Clinic, said the push follows his MPAAT's recent survey. That survey showed Minnesotans are still largely unconcerned about the dangers of secondhand smoke.
``I just don't think we've really gotten the message out about secondhand smoke and the seriousness of it,'' Hurt said. ``That's one of the reasons we've adopted this approach. Once they understand it, it makes it a lot easier to grasp the significance of having smoke-free indoor areas.''
Hurt said the battle to convince people of the dangers of secondhand smoke could prove more challenging than convincing people smoking is dangerous.
``People realize that it is an annoyance and it is a health concern, but they haven't put the seriousness with it,'' he said.
Hurt said secondhand smoke is responsible for myriad ailments, including lung cancer, heart disease, hardening of the arteries and sudden infant death syndrome.
But getting those facts across can be tricky and the issue can get bogged down in debates over how much secondhand smoke is too much. For Hurt, the answer is simple.
``There is no safe lower level of secondhand smoke, and it's because there are so many bad things in tobacco smoke,'' he said.
Advertisements co-opted from similar efforts in California are aimed at delivering that message. They begin airing today on television stations in the Duluth, Rochester and Twin Cities areas.
In one ad, a smoker recalls that his wife often complained about the smell of his cigarettes, then reveals that she died as a result of exposure to the smoke.
In another ad, viewers are asked to choose between medical and scientific organizations that have warned about tobacco smoke and the tobacco industry's insistence that smoke is not harmful. It concludes with the question, ``Who are you going to believe?''
Hurt said he hopes the information will lead to more constructive discussions as the debate over secondhand smoke plays out in other parts of the state.
``We want to make sure people do understand this is a serious health issue, and we hope people on both sides of the issue understand this is not a trivial issue, but a serious health problem,'' he said.
Duluth anti-tobacco groups say the new ads should help explain the dangers of secondhand smoke.
Steve O'Neil of the Twin Ports Youth and Tobacco Coalition, said there seemed to be many people who were not aware of those health effects during the Duluth and Moose Lake smoke-free campaigns.
``It was interesting how many people came up to me and said, `You know, maybe I shouldn't smoke with my kids in the car,' '' O'Neil said. ``They just didn't realize that secondhand smoke was so dangerous.''
While widespread understanding of how smoking affects health has taken decades, O'Neil said he is optimistic the fight to demonstrate the problems of secondhand smoke will take far less time.
He said tobacco companies are now being forced to disclose far more information these days than before and health officials are better equipped to get the word out about the dangers.
Meanwhile, smokers' rights advocates are mounting their own counter-attack.
Archie Anderson of the Minnesota Smokers' Rights Coalition, said he's contacted Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch about pursuing an injunction to stop the ad campaign.
``It's really inciting a hatred of this group that already has resulted in verbal and physical attacks on smokers,'' Anderson of the planned ads.
Anderson said his daughter, a smoker, was confronted outside a Twin Cities shopping mall by a man who objected to her smoking.
``Some big man got right in her face and screamed `Put it out!' '' he said. ``It seems people feel they have the right to assault smokers.''
Anderson said there is no scientific evidence that secondhand smoke causes death or illness.
``In fact, (it) is only an annoyance and no threat to bystanders,'' he said.
Health officials feel otherwise.
For more information on secondhand smoke or to view the new ads, visit www.mpaat.org.