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Survey says: Most disfavor public smoking

WORTHINGTON -- Exposure to second-hand smoke creates more than just the annoyance of bad odors. The 4,000 chemicals and more than 50 cancer-causing agents it contains are proven to cause heart and lung cancer in non-smoking adults. It is also blamed for countless ear infections, bronchitis and approximately 8,000 new cases of asthma among children, and one million asthmatics with intensified attacks each year.

Recent independent polling conducted in Rock, Cottonwood and Jackson counties shows more and more people understand the dangers of second-hand smoke. The results are hoped to help fuel support for smoke-free places throughout southwest Minnesota and across the state, according to Bonnie Frederickson, public health nurse and tobacco health educator for Cottonwood-Jackson Community Health Services.

With nearly 40 percent of all Minnesotans protected by smoke-free ordinances in all public places, including six counties and another half dozen cities -- Mankato being the nearest -- Frederickson and health educator Paula Anderson of Nobles-Rock Community Health Services hope they may soon be able to add the four-county collaboration of Nobles, Rock, Jackson and Cottonwood counties to the list.

"We're seeing momentum, not only across the state, but in our area," Anderson said. "These four, close-knit counties are working together because we're finding what people want."

In surveys given to 400 residents each in Rock, Cottonwood and Jackson counties, an overwhelming majority favor a smoke-free ordinance -- 72 percent in Rock County and 66 percent in Cottonwood-Jackson. The results also show 86 percent of Rock County residents surveyed understand the seriousness of exposure to second-hand smoke as a health hazard, while 80 percent of Cottonwood-Jackson participants ranked exposure as a serious, rather than moderate, health risk.

Brenda Norby, a physician's assistant with United Medical-Avera Health in Windom and a member of the Jackson and Cottonwood County Smoke-free Coalition, said the surveys were given to a cross-section of the population, from young and old to men and women and smokers and non-smokers.

"Two-thirds of residents support smoke-free workplaces," Norby said of the survey's results. The Mellman Group, an independent survey company, polled participants in Jackson and Cottonwood counties in February, while Rock County's survey was done in September. Nobles County residents will be surveyed next month.

The premise behind the surveys is to determine support for smoke-free public places, including restaurants and bars, and if public health education regarding the dangers of second-hand smoke is working.

Frederickson said statistics have proven restaurants and bars that go smoke-free have not lost business as a result. In fact, 24 percent of respondents in Rock County said they would go to restaurants and bars more often if they were smoke free. Cottonwood-Jackson had similar results in that 20 percent of people would go out more often. On the flip side, 9 percent of Rock County residents said they would go to bars and restaurants less often if they were smoke-free, compared to 10 percent in Cottonwood-Jackson.

"People do understand that second-hand smoke is a health hazard -- it is something we can do something about," she added.

While people who visit smoke-filled restaurants and bars put themselves at risk, Frederickson said people who work in those establishments don't have a choice. Bar and restaurant workers are the only employees not protected under Minnesota's Clean Indoor Air Act.

"People don't think of restaurants and bars as workplaces," said Shannon LaCanne, wellness coordinator for Windom Area Hospital. Yet, in conducting the surveys, "70 percent of the people said rights of workers trumped the rights of smokers," she added, "and 20 percent of smokers agreed that the rights of others are important."

Frederickson said information gained from the surveys will be used to continue building support for smoke-free places. Her hope is to get 15 to 20 people from the two-county area to serve on a coalition, a task she hopes will be relatively easy considering 800 households in the two counties support a smoke-free policy.

In Nobles and Rock counties, Anderson said they are further ahead in the process of building support for smoke-free places. Already, Luverne has enacted a smoke-free policy in all public parks and places where children are present, and groups such as Rock County's S.A.F.E. (Safe Air For Everyone) and Nobles County's CAFE (Clean Air For Everyone) continue to build momentum for more communities to establish smoke-free ordinances.

"In both counties, we're having holiday receptions to gather support for SAFE and CAFE and to let (people) know what we're up to and that we're still working on (smoke-free spaces)," Anderson said. "It's kind of a movement now to go county-wide."

Anderson said policies aren't just a good way to protect people from the dangers of second-hand smoke, but they are proving to be a good incentive for smokers as well.

"What they've found through smoke-free workplace policies is that it's another way to help people quit," she said. "If this is one way to help them quit smoking, that's fabulous."

Thanks to CAFE's nearly $199,000 grant from Blue Cross/Blue Shield, NRCHS has hired a community health organizer to begin working with CAFE and implement strategies for smoke-free work places for all workers in Nobles County. Jill Wieme will begin those duties on Monday.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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