I remember a few years ago, there were places here in Broomfield where I would never go because of the cloud of smoke that wafted out every time the door opened. But it’s been more than two years since Colorado banned smoking in public places, and I’m proud of my state for taking this stance. Now there’s clear data to support the legislation from a public health standpoint.
The city of Pueblo banned smoking back in 2003, long before the rest of the state. And now the results are in from a study that tracked the number of heart attack hospitalizations in Pueblo for three years following the smoking ban, and compared the numbers with data gathered before the ban went into effect. The results were significant: Before the ban, the heart attack hospitalization rate was 257 per 100,000 and in the years following the smoking ban, that number dropped to 152 in 100,000. The study also tracked data from surrounding Colorado communities that did not institute a smoking ban, and found no significant changes in the number of people hospitalized with heart attacks.
It’s not surprising that a ban on smoking in public places is beneficial to public health – everybody knows that secondhand smoke is a killer. But I think that a lot of people are surprised by the degree of impact that the ban had, and how quickly the number of heart attacks dropped.
Not only are people in Colorado no longer smoking in public places, but it appears that they aren’t buying as many packs of cancer sticks here in the state, and that is spelling trouble for state health agencies like Medicaid and SCHIP that rely on tax revenue from the sale of cigarettes. If it’s because people are smoking less, that’s a good thing. In that case, I would be in favor of raising the tobacco tax rate in order to make up lost income. But it looks like part of the problem is that people are buying cigarettes across state lines, over the internet, and on the black market – all of which reduce the tax dollars that Colorado has available to provide health insurance coverage to low income residents.
This is an example of a time when I think that states need to work together. If every state had the same tax rate on tobacco, there wouldn’t be any incentive for people to buy cigarettes across state lines. The black market will always exist for products that are regulated and/or heavily taxed. But at least by having a consistent nationwide tobacco tax, each state could get its rightful tax revenue.
I’m thrilled that the smoking ban in Pueblo has yielded such positive effects on the health of the population, and I’m glad that the rest of the state followed suit a few years later. Now let’s hope that the state can figure out the funding for programs like Medicaid and SCHIP – both of which provide health insurance to Colorado populations that desperately need it – despite dwindling tobacco sales.