Opinion: Former health leaders: It’s time to make Atlanta smoke-free

(Caroline Tompkins/The New York Times)

(Caroline Tompkins/The New York Times)

As doctors and former public servants who have worked as the Secretary of Health and Human Services and as U.S. Surgeons General, we are deeply invested in protecting the public health of American communities. That’s why we are voicing our support for the recently introduced City Council ordinance that would make all Atlanta workplaces smoke-free.

Addressing the devastating impacts of smoking and secondhand smoke exposure is critical to improving our nation’s public health. And although we’ve made some important strides in this fight, tobacco use remains the number-one cause of premature and preventable death in the United States. In Georgia, tobacco use is projected to kill 11,700 people and create $3.1 billion in health care costs this year alone.

Since the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health was released in 1964, more than 20 million Americans have lost their lives because of smoking, including approximately 2.5 million nonsmokers who died from diseases caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.

The science is clear: secondhand smoke is dangerous, and there is no such thing as safe exposure. Secondhand smoke has been shown to cause stroke, lung cancer and heart disease in non-smoking adults, as well as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and respiratory problems in infants and children. This year alone, secondhand smoke exposure will kill more than 41,000 nonsmoking Americans.

During our tenures as public health leaders, we were tasked with working to inform policymakers and the public of the steps we can take to best improve our nation’s health. We continue to take this responsibility seriously, and believe we have an obligation to speak out in favor of policies that are evidently in the best interest of our public health. Smoke-free policies like the one in front of the Atlanta City Council are a sound and proven method to improve people’s health and reduce death and disease caused by tobacco use.

Twenty-five states, the District of Columbia and more than 1,000 municipalities across America are already smoke-free. And these communities are being rewarded for taking action — comprehensive smoke-free policies have been shown to not only reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, but also lead to less smoking among covered populations and prevent youth and young adults from starting to smoke. Passing a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance in Atlanta would not only save lives and reduce health care costs, but also help to prevent young Atlantans from ever starting a lifelong addiction to tobacco.

Every person deserves the chance to breathe clean, smoke-free air—and that’s why we’re calling on the City Council to pass Councilmember Westmoreland’s smoke-free ordinance. It’s time for Atlanta’s leaders to take this step to improve our public health and protect the city’s workers, families and visitors from the dangers of secondhand smoke exposure.

Louis Wade Sullivan is a former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Vivek Murthy and David Satcher are former U.S. Surgeon Generals.