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Clearing the smoke from Fort Worth


By Alex Branch

K Bell

Karen Bell Morgan, PhD

Fort Worth soon will be officially smoke free.

On March 12, the city’s updated smoking ordinance prohibiting smoking in bars and bingo parlors will take effect, bringing Fort Worth in line with every other major Texas city.

“Fort Worth has made great strides in health and wellness, with many of our initiatives receiving national attention,” Mayor Betsy Price said. “The adoption of this ordinance is another step forward in creating a healthier environment for all of Fort Worth — from workers to patrons, musicians to expecting mothers.”

The UNT Health Science Center School of Public Health served as a “resource partner” to the coalition, providing scientific expertise and organizing student volunteers to research the impact of second-hand smoke in Fort Worth and to educate the community.

“The committee was made up of a really broad range of people and perspectives,” said Karen Bell Morgan, PhD, Assistant Professor of Health Behavior and Health Systems and coalition member. “I think in the end, it helped inspire a policy with the best interests of community health and businesses in my mind.”

A stricter ordinance

The city of Fort Worth first enacted a smoke-free ordinance in 2008 that banned smoking in many work places but excluded bingo parlors and bars.

The exception was primarily driven by concern that the ordinance would hurt business.

But in the decade that followed, opposition toward smoking in public places grew along with awareness of the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. Many of the businesses that were exempt from the 2008 ordinance have since enacted their own smoking policies.

By 2017, Fort Worth was the only city in Tarrant County that still allowed smoking in bars.

“The worry always was about making sure the ordinance doesn’t hurt businesses,” said Tracey Barnett, PhD, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the School of Public Health, who studies the effects of tobacco. “But the evidence showed that it doesn’t hurt business; in some cases, it even helps it. There are many non-smokers who will intentionally seek out smoke-free venues so it likely balances.”

Studies of the economic impact that stronger smoke-free ordinances had on cities that enacted them before Fort Worth helped calm worries. New Orleans, the city of boozy nightlife and jazz lounges, passed a successful comprehensive smoke-free ordinance three years ago.

“If New Orleans can do it, we will probably be ok,” Dr. Barnett said.

Living

Melvin Livingston, PhD and Tracey Barnett, PhD

Health impact

Studies suggest people who work in bars – bartenders, wait staff, bouncers, entertainers, etc. – will see a direct health impact from the new ordinance.

One study published in the Journal of American Medical Association conducted on California bartenders before and after implementation of a smoking ban found that the bartenders reported substantially fewer respiratory and sensory irritation symptoms, said Melvin Livingston, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biostatics and Epidemiology.

The study concluded that “establishment of smoke-free bars and taverns was associated with a rapid improvement of respiratory health.”

Studies also have shown that more comprehensive smoking ordinances reduced rates of hospital admission or death for coronary events, cerebrovascular accidents and respiratory disease.

“We have seen enough studies in cities with smoking bans to know the results are pretty consistent,” Dr. Livingston said. “From a health perspective, these laws do seem to work.”

Long-term effects of the smoking prohibition could include reduced rates of heart disease and cancer, Dr. Barnett said. Evidence shows smoke-free laws may help motivate smokers to cut back cigarette consumption or quit altogether.

“There are less opportunities to smoke and fewer places to go and sit and smoke,” Dr. Barnett said. “At some point, it can become so inconvenient that people just quit.”

Real field work

The campaign offered UNTHSC public health students an opportunity to join faculty, community members and medical experts from North Texas hospitals, as well as MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, in gathering data on an important health topic.

Kayan Dunnigan, a second-year student studying epidemiology, helped distribute educational information to the public and joined other students in collecting air quality samples for Smoke-Free Fort Worth in bars that still allowed smoking.

Dunnigan and a classmate, Leah Odame-Bamfo, took air quality measuring kits into bars in the Stockyards, measured the dimensions of the business and counted the number of people smoking, she said. The air quality measurements will eventually be compared to new measurements taken after the smoking ordinance has taken effect.

“It was really interesting to participate in public health field work on a real health issue that impacts a lot of people,” Dunnigan said. “We got to take what we’ve been learning in class out in the real world.”

During educational opportunities, students found that many people had not considered that while customers could choose whether or not to visit bars that allowed smoking, employees could not always be that selective when trying to land a job, Dunnigan said.

In the end, the campaign was successful because of the grassroots effort that included many stakeholders, Dr. Bell Morgan said.

“It didn’t take advocates for the ordinance lecturing to businesses or the public,” she said. “It took sharing accurate information, listening to what those affected had to say and finding a solution for everyone.”

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