Rod Driver

Editorial from the Newport Daily News, April 3, 1987

Smoke from tobacco is biggest killer by far

The news is awash in horror stories about the death toll from acquired immunity deficiency syndrome, cocaine, heroin and all kinds of other drugs like "speed," phenocyclidine, amphetamine and methaqualone. The annual death figure from AIDS alone is about 6,000, slightly above 1,000 from heroin and less than 1,000 from each of the other drugs noted.

Still, heavy efforts and money are invested in fighting the drug menace, as well as the frightening AIDS situation that is increasingly referred to as an "epidemic."

But the biggest avoidable killer of all is "ordinary, legal tobacco smoke, inhaled by non-smokers as well as those who voluntarily consume the smoke from cigarettes, cigars and pipes." So says state Representative Rodney D. Driver. Mr. Driver, who also teaches mathematics at the University of Rhode Island, notes that 300,000 people die from tobacco-smoke-related diseases, far beyond the total from other drugs and AIDS combined.

Mr. Driver's views are amply backed up by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who has reported that even "involuntary smoking is a cause of disease, including lung cancer, in otherwise healthy non-smokers." Dr. Koop's report was based on thirteen studies, including one performed at Miriam Hospital in Providence.

But since protection of non-smokers is unlikely on the federal level because of the power of the tobacco interests, Representative Driver is urging that the Rhode Island General Assembly act this year. One of the bills Mr. Driver is pushing in the state legislature this year is modeled after the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act. It would ban smoking in all retail outlets and anywhere a public meeting is taking place. It also would compel all restaurants to designate smoking areas, rather than to assume that smoking is permitted unless specifically banned.

Another bill would require restaurants with fifty or more seats to designate half that number for non-smokers. Mr. Driver considers this allocation as more than fair to smokers, who make up only thirty percent of Rhode Islanders.

Meanwhile, Dr. Koop optimistically predicted that because of continuing studies and public education about the perils of tobacco smoke, the United States will be "smoke-free" by the year 2000.

This may well be so. But until that date arrives, those of us who continue involuntarily inhaling indoors the smoke of others must continue sharing the dangers of death that others voluntarily take. 'Tain't fair. The least the state legislature can do is give us some protection from our tobacco-addicted brothers and sisters.