Well, it is February and that means three things in Maine...
1) We get a ton of snow.
2) That rodent sees his shadow (even if he didn’t, we know we have 6 more weeks of this mess).
3) The cigar industry tries to undermine Maine’s smokefree laws and we have to work unbelievably hard to stop them.
The American Heart Association is incredibly proud to have played a leading role in assuring Maine workers and the public are protected from secondhand smoke. It was way back in 1993 (yes, that is “way back” for those of you who are my age) that restaurants went smokefree. We added bars and most other workplaces in 2002. Since then, we have strived to protect workers from the very real, and very well-known dangers of secondhand smoke. We added protections for home health care workers, took smoke out of hospitals, day care, foster homes and nursing homes.
However, four years ago, certain proprietors wanted to expand their cigar-selling business to add food and drink. They knew the laws when they opened their businesses (some violated these laws and were caught). They wanted special treatment. We defeated that obvious roll-back to Maine’s carefully crafted public health law. Then, they hired more lobbyists and…
Yup, you guessed it. They were back 2 years later. Same goal—to become defacto smoke-filled bars. We were busy trying to pass good laws that required tests for all newborns and asked schools to offer hands only CPR, as well as fighting cuts to the state’s tobacco program and taking on the beverage and tobacco industries on many other fronts. The cigar industry had one goal and dedicated resources. We defeated them, but it was not easy. It took a lot of precious time that would have been better spent moving forward, not trying to avoid slipping backwards.
February 2017: cue Punxsutawney Phil and Bill Murray. They are back again. We have a big crop of new legislators who don’t remember why we did this in the first place. We are going to have to work very hard to beat back the tobacco industry this time. The public hearing and work session were a bit frightening. Legislators saying that smoking 1-2 cigars a day is not bad for you. Missing the fact that cigar use is *growing* with boys and young men and that nicotine in any form is addictive. No understanding that even only 30 minutes of exposure to second-hand smoke can trigger a heart attack in someone with a known (or unknown) heart condition.
We will need your help to defeat this measure. The AHA and our partners at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association and the Maine Medical Association will have to scale a mountain of misinformation in order to combat this industry. Will you strap on your snowshoes and join us?