By Juan Flores
Every day, thousands of Texans’ lives are put in danger as a result of second-hand smoke exposure in the workplace. Texas Latinos, which constitute 41 percent of the state’s population, and 35 percent of the labor force, often work in the food industry where only one third of workers are protected against secondhand smoking.
Latinos are a complex and diverse community whose bienestar (well-being) is a reflection of their cultural values, socio-economic circumstances and environmental conditions. But their propensity to experience health and health insurance disparities, financial insecurity, and low educational attainment makes them a highly vulnerable population.
For Latinos in Texas, a disproportionate likelihood of being exposed to secondhand smoke in their workplaces and the lack of smoke-free regulations in their community makes this a worker’s right and safety issue.
With tobacco use and exposure a contributing cause of most premature deaths, supporting policy and programmatic measures to reduce or prevent tobacco use and protect families from the dangers of second-hand smoke will have positive impacts on health and financial outcomes for Latinos for generations to come.
Despite lower smoking rates and a stricter adherence to no-smoking policies in a household, Latinos are less likely to be covered by nonsmoking policies and more likely exposed to secondhand smoke. About 38 percent of the Latino population remain uninsured and one quarter live in poverty and thus have less access to health insurance and primary care.
This increases their risk of death form lung disease, heart disease and other chronic and fatal health effects from secondhand smoke exposure.
Smoke-free policies not only improve the health and productivity of employees, but also decrease business costs for insurance, cleaning and maintenance. There are some that say a smoke-free policy pushes otherwise paying customers away and makes businesses suffer financially. However, studies that analyzed the sales tax data after implementation of a smoke-free ordinance in four Texas cities found that smoke-free policies do not affect restaurant revenue or the sale of alcoholic beverages in bars.
As an ever-growing voice in Texas, Latinos now make up 20 percent of business owners and have a purchasing power of around $175.3 billion, an increase of 429 percent since 1990. Texas Latinos are realizing the importance their power and opinion have and many have come together to stand in favor of a statewide smoke-free policy.
Most Texans know that smoking and second-hand smoke are a major cause of premature deaths, chronic health problems, and high health care costs and support making all workplaces, restaurants and bars in the state smoke-free.
Nationwide, an estimated 24,000 people die annually from smoking-attributable illnesses. Smoke-free policies are a non-costly implementation that would annually save the Texas economy more than $54 million in reduced health care costs, more than $71 million in reduced health care costs for smokers who quit as a result of the law, more than $77 million in productivity cost savings, and more than $16 million in medical costs that would be averted from low birth weights.
Let’s not add more chronic health problems and high health care costs to our State budget when there are simple solutions we can implement. Tobacco clean-air policies do not affect restaurant revenue or the sale of alcoholic beverages and immediately and notably improve heart health particularly in nonsmokers.
While targeted smoking prevention programs are important and needed for our community, supporting policy and programmatic measures to reduce or prevent tobacco use and protect families from the dangers of second-hand smoke will have positive impacts on the health and financial outcomes for Latinos for generations to come.
Juan Flores is executive director of La Fe Policy Research and Education Center