As a surgeon, I often experience the heavy burden of telling patients and family members the unwelcome news of a lung cancer diagnosis, a disease that fewer than 10 percent survive.
Last year, I joined thousands of advocates in applauding the passage of a law requiring the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products. Strangely, despite tobacco's status as the No. 1 preventable cause of death in our country, the powerful tobacco lobby had managed to exempt its product from regulation. In fact, up until the passage of this law, tobacco was the only consumable product to be completely free of regulation, and not even a simple listing of ingredients was required.
This year, I assisted in the passage of a law to protect all Kansans from secondhand smoke in public places. This important public health measure is supported by more than 70 percent of Kansans. Smoking burdens our society with the suffering and health-care costs related to cancer, heart disease and respiratory illness. Secondhand smoke delivers those same illnesses to nonsmokers.
Imagine my disappointment that these two laws have come under attack as part of the current election cycle. Apparently, a small but vocal minority feels that the tobacco industry should be exempt from regulation (as are no other producers of consumable products). This same vocal minority feels that the 82 percent of nonsmoking Kansans should be exposed to the risks of secondhand smoke simply to prevent the theoretical revenue loss to a few businesses.
These are common sense laws that benefit all Kansans. It is a basic duty of government to protect the public health, safety and welfare. We see this duty in operation every day in workplace safety regulations and food service laws. It is only logical that tobacco products, the leading cause of preventable death in our society, should be regulated in ways that protect us.
These laws creating a smoke-free Kansas and FDA regulation of tobacco are much needed and long overdue — and no campaign bluster should convince the sensible people of Kansas otherwise.
JAMES J. HAMILTON,
Hamilton is a member of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.