Conference accentuates the negatives of tobacco use
Waco residents who want the city to ban smoking in public places got a lot of ammunition that should help their cause during a tobacco prevention conference held in Waco Thursday.
About 100 adults and 100 youths from 17 area counties attended the conference, which was designed to educate people about the health risks of tobacco use. Several out-of-town experts made presentations at the event, including a Lubbock doctor who talked about her city's fight to limit smoking public places. Jeffrey Wigand, a former tobacco executive whose story was chronicled in the 1999 movie "The Insider," also spoke at the conference.
Waco city council member Randy Riggs, who proclaimed Thursday as Tobacco-Free Community Day" for Waco and presented Wigand with a key to the city, said said he thinks the conference helped raise community awareness about tobacco issues.
That's important to Riggs because he hopes the city will eventually pass an ordinance that would ban smoking in some public places. He and other members of the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District board have been examining anti-smoking ordinances from around the state.
Their efforts have also been joined by the McLennan County Medical Society, whose members have recently written letters to local restaurants, urging them to voluntarily ban smoking. Riggs said he thinks the more people are made aware of the dangers of tobacco use, the more they will support an anti-smoking ordinance.
"I think if people realized the health risks (of secondhand smoke), they would think twice," Riggs said.
Education is exactly what it will take to get such an ordinance enacted, said Lubbock physician Donna Bacchi at the conference. She said getting people to realize the harmful effects of secondhand smoke played a vital role in persuading the Lubbock City Council to pass an ordinance that limits smoking in businesses.
Bacchi spent much of her presentation arming participants with facts about secondhand smoke. She said that for every eight smokers who die because of tobacco use, one non-smoker dies because of exposure to secondhand smoke. She also said that people can be harmed to the same extent whether they are exposed to secondhand smoke for 10 minutes or 10 hours.
Bacchi also countered the argument that anti-smoking ordinances are bad for businesses, such as restaurants. She said a recent study of more than 100 cities that have banned or limited smoking in public places showed that not one of them experienced a negative economic impact. The cities studied included three Texas cities: Arlington, Wichita Falls and Westlake Hills.
"This is simply a health issue," Bacchi said. "There is just no safe level of exposure (to secondhand smoke)."
Wigand also addressed the public health danger that is posed by secondhand smoke, but he focused more on what he says is the deceit of the tobacco industry. He said he learned about its lies firsthand during the four years he worked as the vice president for research and development at the world's second largest tobacco company, Brown & Williamson.
Wigand said the industry has known for more than five decades that nicotine is addictive and that their products kill people when used as directed. Yet tobacco companies still will not formally acknowledge those facts, he said.
"This is an industry that dupes, manipulates, tricks, cajoles and preys on the weak, the uneducated and on human sexuality and development to get (people) hooked. (Tobacco) is the most preventable form and vector of death that we know of. If this product was invented today, it would be illegal."
Wigand said he is especially concerned about tobacco companies targeting children. That's why, he said, that he was pleased so many youths attended the conference. He encouraged them to let their peers know that tobacco companies are profiting off them.
"Without the children, there is no tobacco business," Wigand said. "They've got to get more people hooked. A pack of cigarettes costs them 11 cents to make, but they make $45 billion in annual sales. ... I encourage you to go out there and make a difference."
The event was organized by the Tobacco-Free Communities Coalition of Central Texas. The group is made up of a broad range of entities, including hospitals, schools, the Texas Department of Health and non-profit organizations, such as the American Cancer Society.