Make Augusta healthier

It is time for the citizens and elected officials of Augusta-Richmond County to recognize that our economic progress – and our image as a great place to live, work and play – depends on the health of our community. Currently, Augusta-Richmond County ranks poorly in comparison to other Georgia and U.S. counties. Among our public health challenges (which are also a threat to our economy) are high mortality (early death) and morbidity (sickness) rates because of chronic disease – cardiovascular disease, in particular.

Policy and environmental changes that encourage healthier choices (“making the healthy choice the easy choice,” as health advocates say) and that create healthier environments are met with resistance. That’s even when scientific research and analysis show that such changes lead to better health, and that better health can have positive impacts individually and community-wide.

A ban on secondhand smoke in all public indoor environments will benefit the community, not harm us. It may not be popular to take a stand in this regard, but it is the sensible, ethical step to protect the population and provide long-term economic benefits to the community. Simply put, the benefits will outweigh the costs. Augusta-Richmond County is surrounded by communities that have enacted smoke-free ordinances. Exactly why are we holding ourselves hostage to increasing health care costs and underemployment?

Many people have mentioned to me the annoyance of the lingering cigarette smell on their clothes and hair after exposure to secondhand smoke. But that’s not the most important point. It’s the internal damage to the heart, lungs and vascular system – what you can’t see or smell – that’s at stake. You can’t easily cleanse a damaged cardiovascular system like you can clothes or hair, and the costs for repair accrue to us all.

(The writer is a member of the Richmond County Board of Health.)

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