In 2012, every county across the state of North Dakota voted to pass one of the strongest smoke-free laws in the country. Last week the North Dakota House voted 48 to 45 to pass a bill that would exempt cigar lounges and bars that sell cigars from the statewide smoke-free law.

As a nurse and advocate for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, I am strongly opposed to rolling back smoke-free laws in our state. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke and North Dakotans understand that. Opening the door to expand exemptions undermines the will of the people and is simply bad policy that could prove fatal.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disability in the U.S. Additionally, smoking increases a person’s risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Smoke-free laws exist to protect patrons and workers from exposure to secondhand smoke because no one should have to choose between their health and a paycheck.

Smoke-free laws also denormalize tobacco use, which results in a reduced number of people, especially youth, who start smoking and increases quitting by those who smoke. Lower smoking rates lead to improved health, including fewer heart attacks and cancers.

Amid this pandemic, when standing up for public health is of the utmost priority, particularly respiratory health, we ask our senators to reject any efforts to infringe upon North Dakotans’ right to breathe clean, smoke-free air.

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I urge you to contact your senators regarding House Bill 1152 and urge them to vote against it.

Brenda Jo Gillund is a registered nurse and advocate for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.