Most Mississippians now say they don’t allow smoking in their homes. That’s a big change from two decades ago, and it reflects a national trend demonstrated by a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The CDC says 80 percent of Mississippi households were smokefree – that is, no one is allowed to smoke inside the home – in 2010-2011. In 1991-1992, only 40 percent were smokefree.
Brian King, a senior advisor with the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, says this reflects, in part, a decline in the number of people who smoke - but it also points to a change in social norms.
“As a society, we're starting to understand more the dangers of secondhand smoke, and more people are acknowledging this danger, and they no longer see it as socially acceptable to be smoking around non-smokers, particularly children,” King says.
Attitudes seem to be shifting even among smokers. The study found nearly half of Mississippians who smoke don't allow smoking in their homes.
“We know that, for example, about 10 percent of all mortality associated with exposure to tobacco smoke occurs in individuals who don’t use tobacco at all, and that’s roughly equivalent to about the same number of people who die of colon cancer every year. So it’s a very, very significant problem,” says Tom Payne, director of the University of Mississippi Medical Center'sACT Center for Tobacco Treatment, Education and Research.
“So I think what this shows is that people are becoming, in general, more aware of the fact that you should not expose others to [secondhand smoke], and that includes not only non-smokers, but smokers too are becoming aware of the fact that if they make a choice to smoke themselves, that’s one thing, but they should protect those around them,” King says.
The CDC says 41,000 non-smoking adults die in the U.S. each year because of exposure to secondhand smoke from cigarettes. King, of the CDC, says much of the awareness of the dangers of secondhand smoke was initiated after the Surgeon General’s report on secondhand smoke in 2006, which, he says, “noted there’s no risk-free level of secondhand exposure, and the only way to full protect people is to completely eliminate it in indoor environments.”
King points out that half of smokers do still allow smoking in their homes, potentially exposing household members to secondhand smoke, and one in five households do still allow smoking inside.
“So although we’ve made great progress, there’s still some way to go in terms of educating people about secondhand smoke and continuing to shift those social norms,” King says.
The CDC notes that recent studies, including one co-authored by Mississippi State University assistant professor of psychology Robert McMillen, show connection between non-smoking workplace policies and smokefree homes.
“One school of thought is that if you ban smoking at work, the smokers are just going to compensate and smoke more at home so they’ll put their family members more at risk,” McMillen says. “The study that I did with Kai-Wen Cheng and others at the University of California-San Francisco shows that’s actually pretty much false.
“When you pass smokefree laws for the workplaces and restaurants, what happens is smokers actually begin to smoke less and more of them are likely to try to quit,” he says. “And we actually see an increase in smokefree homes in communities that have passed smokefree restrictions for restaurants and workplaces.
“So basically it seems to be a protective factor: if you ban smoking at work, it seems to trickle down to banning smoking in the homes as well, which is obviously a private decision,” McMillen says.
Eighty-seven Mississippi cities have smokefree ordinances, but there's no statewide law. The Mississippi State Medical Association recently said it's starting a petition to convince legislators to put the issue to voters.