Advocates for smoke-free workplace regulations in Natrona County say a new report by the U.S. Surgeon General demonstrates tobacco smoke poses an imminent health threat.
The report concludes even limited exposure to tobacco smoke can cause immediate damage to the body and can trigger heart attacks. Tobacco smoke can also damage a person's DNA, which could lead to cancer.
Findings from the report, which was released Thursday, could bolster the case for workplace smoking bans. Supporters of the regulations say cigarette smoke puts the health of workers and customers at serious risk.
The Casper/Natrona County Board of Health declined last month to pursue a countywide workplace smoking ban. Proponents don't intend to ask the board to revisit its decision in light of the report. Instead, they've decided to pursue regulations in Casper, Evansville and Mills.
When they passed on the ban, health board members said the issue should be handled by state lawmakers and expressed concern over a Teton County lawsuit that argues health boards don't have the power to enact smoking bans.
The board also questioned whether smoking poses the imminent health threat that justified a ban. Dr. Tom Burke, who practices internal medicine in Casper, said the report highlights the immediate risk that smoking can create.
Low levels of smoke can increase inflammation in the lining of blood vessels, according to the report. That inflammation could ultimately trigger a heart attack in someone with significant coronary disease, Burke said.
"Once we recognize something is this dangerous, we have to start thinking of the implications of inaction," said Burke, who has spoken out in favor of a workplace smoking ban.
Other cities that have limited smoking in public places have experienced significant declines in heart attacks, he added.
"We are now realizing this is a real acute danger," he said.
Reached Thursday afternoon, board member Dr. Tom Radosevich said he hadn't had an opportunity to study the report.
"We need to work to reduce smoking rates," he said. "I believe the most effective way to do that is to target the youth by dramatically increasing the excise tax on tobacco products. Only the state Legislature can do that. That is what I advocated for at the meeting and this is what I will continue to advocate for, along with statewide legislation regarding clean air."
Critics of a workplace ban have argued business owners should decide whether to allow smoking. But Rachel Bailey, campaign manager for Smokefree Natrona County, said policymakers need to focus on the findings in the report instead of emotional arguments.
"With the release of something like this, I think people really need to be looking at the scientific medical facts," she said. "This is a medical issue and something that can affect anyone in the community."
Smokefree Natrona County is the group that sought the countywide workplace smoking regulation. Although Bailey believes the report demonstrates smoking's imminent health threat, she said the group has no plans to ask the board to revisit its decision.
The group will help the board draft a resolution encouraging lawmakers to pursue statewide smoking legislation. Members also plan to seek workplace smoking ordinances from individual cities.