Profile: Cover story; smoking ban overturned in Helena, Montana


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Profile: Cover story; smoking ban overturned in Helena, Montana,

despite doctors' claim of a downturn in heart attacks while the

ban was in effect


We all know about the long-term benefits of giving up smoking, but there could

be a important short-term payoff as well. The experience of one American

community now as Russ Mitchell reports our SUNDAY MORNING cover story.
(Footage of Helena, Montana; ambulances; hospital emergency entrance; patient

being treated in emergency room)

RUSS MITCHELL reporting:
(Voiceover) A trip to the emergency room is often a matter of life and death.

Doctors at this small city hospital, St. Peter's, in Helena, Montana, say

they've made a discovery which could affect the lives of people everywhere.
(Footage of Helena; people smoking; sign supporting non-smoking rule; ECG

readout; emergency room)

MITCHELL: (Voiceover) It all began in June of last year, when the people of

Helena went to the polls and voted to ban smoking in bars, restaurants and

casinos. The ban received more than 60 percent of the vote, and no sooner had

Helena's residents begun putting out their cigarettes than doctors at St.

Peter's say they saw something dramatic: an immediate drop in the number of

heart attack patients coming through their doors.

Dr. DICK SARGENT (Helena, Montana): We had predicted to see 56 heart attacks

in the six months that the ordinance was in effect. We, in fact, saw 24.

MITCHELL: (Voiceover) The size and speed of the drop, greater than 50 percent

in just over a month's time, came as a surprise to Dr. Dick Sargent, one of

the chief proponents of the Helena smoking ban.

Dr. SARGENT: We turned an ordinance on, and the heart attack rate went down.

Nothing else changed. Nothing else changed. If you look at the surrounding

communities, the number of heart attacks didn't wiggle, so it wasn't an

environmental thing. Something changed in Helena.

(Footage of No Smoking sign; public ashtray; graph superimposed over people

MITCHELL: (Voiceover) To skeptics, it seemed incredible, even impossible,

that a simple change in the law could have such an immediate impact on public

health. So Dr. Sargent and his colleagues decided to analyze the numbers

that they were seeing. Rather than focus on long-term harm caused by

smoking--lung cancer or emphysema--their study tracked the fast-acting effects

tobacco smoke can have on smokers and the people around them.
Dr. SARGENT: Just 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can make the

cells in your bloodstream that form clots more sticky, so you're more prone to

MITCHELL: Just 30 minutes.
Dr. SARGENT: Just 30 minutes of exposure. When you block off that artery

totally, you've got a heart attack.

(Footage of graph; Stanton Glantz)
MITCHELL: (Voiceover) Dr. Sargent acknowledges that the study is only a

preliminary indicator of the impact of Helena's smoking ban. Still, he and

his colleague stand behind their findings.
Dr. STANTON GLANTZ (University of California-San Francisco): In Helena you

had this nice, crisp situation. It's--it was what scientists call a natural


MITCHELL: (Voiceover) Stanton Glantz runs the Center for Tobacco Research and

Education at the University of California-San Francisco. Glantz has long been

an opponent of the tobacco industry, but he's also a respected medical

analyst. The Helena doctors turned to Glantz to verify their findings and

co-author their report.

(Footage of Helena)
Dr. GLANTZ: Helena is out there all by itself, and there's essentially one

hospital, and the hospital serves the entire region. So when the law went

into effect, it a--it affected a defined group of people, and everybody in the

region was going to the same hospital.

MITCHELL: You might expect the story to end there, with Helena's smoking ban

firmly in place and the number of heart attacks sharply reduced. But just as

soon as it appeared in the books, Helena's smoking ban came under fire,

consumed by a debate over what matters most, saving lives or saving

What was it like for you the day the ban was passed?
Mr. GREG STRAW (Manager, Montana Nugget Casino): I--it was awful. I--it

was--it was immediate loss of--of business, huge. It was your worst nightmare

come true.
Oho, full house. That's 25 points.
(Footage of casino)
MITCHELL: (Voiceover) Greg Straw manages the Montana Nugget Casino. You

won't find much high-stakes gambling here, just nickel-and-dime video betting.

The one thing you will find is a cigarette in almost every hand.
Mr. STRAW: Thirty percent we were down in--in the first month following the

MITCHELL: And you attribute that to the smoking ban?

Mr. STRAW: There is absolutely no doubt it was--it was attributable to the

smoking ban. I--I guess a beer and a cigarette have gone hand in hand for

(Footage of bar)
MITCHELL: (Voiceover) Across town, bar owner Laura Fix was reporting losses

of her own.

What did the ban do for your business?
Ms. LAURA FIX (Bar Owner): On the nightclub side of the business, sales were

down $57,000 in a five-and-a-half-month period that the ban was in effect.

MITCHELL: Fifty-seven thousand dollars.

Ms. FIX: Right.
MITCHELL: How close were you to packing it in?
Ms. FIX: Less than an inch. Well--and we couldn't pack it in. I mean, we

have debt to repay.

MITCHELL: What were your customers telling you, the customers who weren't

coming in? What were they telling you about why they weren't coming in?

Ms. FIX: They have to smoke.
(Footage of Mark Staples)
MITCHELL: (Voiceover) To the defense of bar owners like Laura Fix came this

man, Mark Staples, lobbyist for the Montana Tavern Association.

Mr. MARK STAPLES (Lobbyist, Montana Tavern Association): They shouldn't be

the arbiters of social conduct that is otherwise permissible.

MITCHELL: Tavern owners.
Mr. STAPLES: Yeah. Why stick this on these people? Customers are there of

their own free will. The health thing is optional. It's optional whether

somebody goes in, exposes themselves to something that people are telling them

is unhealthy. On the other hand, the loss of money is not an optional. It's

immediate and impactive.
MITCHELL: But to Dr. Dick Sargent, the `health thing' is hardly optional.
They're in the business to make money. You understand what they're saying,

Dr. SARGENT: Well, they're in the business to make money...

MITCHELL: I mean, they have a point to an extent, right?
Dr. SARGENT: ...but at some point you have to say you've got to have some

ethics. It is not all right to murder for profit. It's not all right to

poison people for profit, and that's their argument. They have to be allowed

to continue poisoning people, even when we've demonstrated the immediate

effect of it.

(Footage of cigarette; money being counted; state government building; Helena;

Montana legislative chambers)

MITCHELL: (Voiceover) Saving lives vs. saving livelihoods. After just six

months on the books, faced with legal challenges from business owners, the

city of Helena suspended its smoking ban. Then, in April, the Montana

Legislature passed a bill overturning the Helena ordinance, legislation signed

into law by Governor Judy Martz.
Doctors say it's a health issue.
Governor JUDY MARTZ (Montana): Sure, it's a health issue. Sure, it's a

health issue.

MITCHELL: They go...
Gov. MARTZ: But it's a choice issue, too.
MITCHELL: They al--they go so far as to say that many of these tavern owners

and casino owners are picking profit over...

Gov. MARTZ: Is that a sin?
Gov. MARTZ: ...picking profit over murder. They say they're killing people.
Gov. MARTZ: No, no. That would say--that would mean like anybody that

drives a big truck is a murderer because a big truck could kill someone. You

have a choice to get in the way of the truck, or you have a choice to get out

of the way. You have a choice to go into a smoking facility, or you have a

choice to stay out of that smoking facility.
(Footage of tavern)
MITCHELL: (Voiceover) But is it a matter of choice for everyone?
Mr. TOBY DeWOLF (Restaurant Owner): And I think consumers have a choice, but

I don't think employees at this point--I still think the issue stands that an

employee does not want to challenge their employer on this issue because of

fear of losing their job.

MITCHELL: (Voiceover) Toby DeWolf owns a downtown restaurant and watering

hole which he's long kept smoke-free, for his health, he says, and for the

health of the people who depend on him for their jobs.

Mr. DeWOLF: When you're working in that kind of environment for 16, 18 hours

a day, and that becomes your livelihood, you know, it's--it's your health and

the health of the employees at risk all the time.

(Footage of smoker; hospital; heart monitor readout; emergency room)
MITCHELL: (Voiceover) And in fact, within weeks after the ban was suspended,

doctors say they saw the number of heart attacks bounce back, all the way back

to levels they hadn't seen since before the ban.
Dr. SARGENT: It stayed down until after the ordinance was suspended and

then, almost as soon as it was suspended, went right back up to exactly where

we predicted it would have been, and I just find that phenomenal.
Gov. MARTZ: I don't believe that's true.
MITCHELL: Let me make sure I understand this. So when these doctors in

Helena say, `Look, I've got evidence here that heart disease, heart attacks

went down during the six months of this ban,' you're saying you don't believe

Gov. MARTZ: I don't believe that, no. I don't believe that's true. I don't

believe that statistically you can create a fact, a good, solid fact in six

months, in a six-month period of time. If that's a year, two years, three

years down the road, you've got more people doing the studies than just one

entity, I think you've got some solid scientific evidence.

Dr. SARGENT: Six months isn't long enough? Well, how long would be long

enough? Would it be two years? We'd be happy to have an ordinance for two

years and compare those numbers. We wanted a year. We didn't get it. We

took advantage of what we got.

(Footage of casino; smokers)
MITCHELL: (Voiceover) Lives vs. livelihoods--the debate is far from over.

Proponents promise they'll keep fighting to put the smoking ban back on the

(Visual of SUNDAY MORNING sun logo; footage of Chris Bangle)

OSGOOD: Coming up, the American designer who's driving Germany's BMW to


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