BY THE NUMBERS
• Economic cost due to smoking: $5.14 billion
• Adult smoking rate: 20.1 percent
• High school smoking rate: 20.9 percent
• Middle school smoking rate: 9.7 percent
• Smoking-attributable deaths per year: 9,709
• Economic cost due to smoking: $5.68 billion
• Adult smoking rate: 17.6 percent
• High school smoking rate: 16.9 percent
• Middle school smoking rate: 8.5 percent
• Smoking-attributable deaths per year: 10,546
• Economic cost due to smoking: $3.68 billion
• Adult smoking rate: 21.9 percent
• High school smoking rate: 18.6 percent
• Middle school smoking rate: 7.0 percent
• Smoking-attributable deaths per year: 7,584
Source: American Lung Association, 2009 and 2010 surveys
Two weeks ago, Dorothy Caplenor tried to evade tendrils of cigarette smoke at a Friday night Nightfall concert -- even as she counted dozens of children and other pregnant women in the hazy air.
"I wasn't going to go back because you couldn't get away from it," said 33-year-old Caplenor, who is eight months pregnant. "We used to go all the time, but I think it's irresponsible to allow it in this day and age when we know how bad it is for babies and children -- and adults, for that matter."
Caplenor was thrilled to learn that Miller Plaza and Nightfall are going smoke-free beginning June 1.
The decision comes a year after Riverbend announced it would restrict smoking in certain areas at the festival. This year, Riverbend is expanding its smoke-free zones, adding additional signs and handing out cards about the zones to anyone found smoking in them.
Organizers say the two open-air music events are among the first in the nation to restrict smoking.
But various groups working to lessen the impact of secondhand smoke say that, while they are excited to see the changes, their ultimate goal is to see both events and other outdoor areas, such as city parks, entirely smoke-free.
The decision to make Miller Plaza smoke-free fits in with the overall goals of River City Co., said Kim White with the economic development group, which owns Miller Plaza.
"We try to promote a healthy, vibrant lifestyle," White said. "We are excited about the fact that this will be a nonsmoking, family-friendly environment."
White said signs will be erected on the plaza, and cigarette disposal areas will be taken away. Nearby tenants and businesses also will be advised of the change, she said.
Because the plaza is a place for employees to take smoke breaks, she expects it to take a while for people to make the switch.
"We've gotten a lot of requests from people, so I think this will be very much appreciated," White said.
Carla Pritchard, Nightfall organizer and executive director of Chattanooga Presents, said smoking has not been allowed in the seating area. Now the ban will be expanded throughout the plaza, where most music listeners congregate.
Smoking will still be permitted in the surrounding streets blocked off for Nightfall, she said.
"We'll put it in our press releases and tell our security guards about the changes," Pritchard said. "I think the timing is right."
White said River City hopes the move will encourage others, including Riverbend and Chattanooga city parks, to follow their lead.
City officials said Thursday they have no plans to make city parks smoke-free.
Last year, Riverbend organizers promoted "smoke-free zones" at the riverfront music festival, and this year they plan to expand those areas to include all seating areas, the children's area and the handicapped area.
Groups such as Smoke Free Chattanooga, the Hamilton County Health Department and the Chattanooga and Hamilton County Medical Society continue to urge festival organizers to totally ban smoking or switch to having designated smoking areas.
For a population accustomed to such areas, smoke-free zones are confusing, said Kevin Lusk, who heads up Smoke Free Chattanooga.
The Medical Society sent a letter about smoking to festival organizers this year, the first year it has done so.
"Sitting three feet away from a smoker outdoors can expose you to the same level of secondhand smoke as if you were sitting indoors with a smoker," the letter states. "Last year's offering of designated smoke-free areas throughout the festival grounds was well-intended but not effective."
Chip Baker, executive director of Friends of the Festival, which manages Riverbend, said it's already the first outdoor festival in the nation to restrict smoking. In addition, the festival gave up $45,000 in revenue last year by not allowing tobacco sponsors, he said.
The festival will continue to work with the health department and other groups, but changes must come gradually because they're trying to change longstanding habits, he said.
This year, the health department participated in volunteer training and is making cards for volunteers to hand to people who are smoking in smoke-free areas, according to Jay Collum, coordinator of tobacco control at the department.
"This is not about a power struggle," Collum said. "This is really about a health issue. I don't think it's asking too much as awareness grows how truly dangerous secondhand smoke is. Most smokers do not mind that."
Caplenor said she supports smokers having the right to smoke in an outdoor area, but she thinks it should be in a designated place. With the changes at Nightfall, she and her husband will have another smoke-free place to take their son once he is born in June, she said.
"We'll have lots of family coming into town to visit him; now we can take them to Nightfall," Caplenor said. "It's just one of those events that makes our city special."
Staff writer Cliff Hightower contributed to this article.
Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...