Could outdoor public spaces in Warwick be smoke free in the near future? It’s a possibility Mayor Scott Avedisian isn’t ruling out, and in light of new data collected by the Department of Health, most Rhode Islanders would support such a move.
Depending on the legislation, which hasn’t been introduced for council consideration or, for that matter, even drafted at this time, a ban could prohibit smoking in city parks, beaches, outside city buildings and at city events such as outdoor concerts and fairs.
Avedisian isn’t in the minority.
According to a survey of more than 900 people across the state by the Department of Health (HEALTH), 86 percent of Rhode Islanders either “like” or “love” the idea to ban smoking on beaches. Eighty-nine percent felt the same way about parks, and 92 percent said they would like to see playgrounds be smoke free.
When it came to banning smoking at outdoor dining spots, 88 percent “liked” or “loved” the idea, and 84 percent favored a smoking ban at outdoor festivals and fairs.
The data was collected through a “man on the street” intercept survey, paid for through the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) core funding. The survey’s development, analysis and technical assistance cost roughly $3,000; the CDC’s core funding totals $1.3 million.
HEALTH worked in conjunction with Woonsocket Prevention Coalition, Chariho Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention and the Urban League of Rhode Island, to interview people in 30 of Rhode Island’s communities. The bulk of those interviewed in Warwick were female non-smokers under the age of 45.
HEALTH surveyed 919, but only found out the smoking status of 712; the question “Are you a smoker?” was added after the survey started. Of the 712 that answered the question, 67 percent were non-smokers, 23 percent were former smokers and roughly 11 percent were active smokers.
Despite the majority of those surveyed being non-smokers, the overall data pretty accurately reflected the opinion of smokers, too.
Of those that are current smokers, 50 percent favored (versus 44 percent opposed) smoking bans for outdoor dining locations. A majority also favored smoking bans in parks. However, A third of smokers polled “disliked” or strongly disliked” the idea of prohibiting smoking on beaches. Unfortunately, an even larger percentage (55 percent) were not asked this question. Smokers also opposed the prohibition of smoking at fairs or festivals, 46 to 40 percent.
Dara Chadwick, spokeswoman for HEALTH, said the survey was a means to quantify public opinion about smoking bans; there are no plans for additional steps at this time.
Locally, communities like Central Falls, Woonsocket and Charlestown have enacted various types of outdoor smoking bans, but Chadwick said no other municipalities have approached HEALTH for more information in the wake of the survey’s publication. However, Mayor Avedisian said he believes the City Council would consider such a measure.
“[The council], along with the chairwoman of the School Committee [Beth Furtado], have been willing to look at ways to improve health awareness and health status of our residents,” he said.
Various studies have been done in recent years to determine the danger of second-hand outdoor smoke to non-smokers. Studies from the mid-2000s done in various locations from California to Denmark and Maryland to the Caribbean all demonstrated that non-smokers within proximity to those smoking were affected by the second-hand smoke, despite the immediate access to fresh air and the unlimited dispersion of smoke. One such experiment was conducted on the deck of a cruise ship moving at 20 knots; the study found that designated outdoor smoking areas on the deck were as highly contaminated by carcinogens as indoor casinos.
A study conducted in 2010 by students at the University of Georgia tested urine and saliva samples of subjects before, immediately after and the morning after each three-hour visit to sites where outdoor smoking occurred. The students deliberately sat near patrons smoking at a restaurant and a bar; there was also a control group that sat at an open-air, control site. Those exposed to smoking produced a significantly higher amount of salivary cotinine, the byproduct of nicotine. Urine tests showed high concentrations of a chemical found in tobacco for those exposed to outdoor smoke. The study concluded that exposure to outdoor second-hand smoke may increase the risk of negative health effects associated with the cancer-causing components of tobacco.
"Smoke-free outdoor areas would not only protect public health, but also reduce cigarette litter, decrease the risk of fire, send a positive message to kids and create supportive environments for smokers to finally kick the habit," said Director of HEALTH Michael Fine, MD in a statement.
The CDC encourages organizations to create environments more conducive to quitting the use of cigarettes. The American Cancer Society’s (ACS) 37th Annual Great American Smokeout, a day smokers are encouraged to quit, was held on Nov. 15. According to ACS, 43.8 million Americans still smoke, despite tobacco consumption being the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the nation.