Evidence from total smoking bans nationwide has shown they improve public health and reduce health care costs, the director of the City of Casper-Natrona County Health Department said Monday.

"Across the board we've seen health benefits from implementing these comprehensive smoking bans," Dr. Kelly Weidenbach said.

"(They include) everything from reductions of heart attack and stroke, childhood asthma attacks, just people presenting to the emergency room with respiratory symptoms in general, even pre-term births so women who go into birth too early, we see a reduction in that," Weidenbach said.

The board of the health department issued a statement Oct. 23 favoring a total smoking ban, which Casper voters will decide today at the polls.

"A comprehensive, smoking ban benefits the entire Natrona County community as a whole and it’s a clear win for evidence-based public health policy and practice," the board wrote in the statement. The department is funded by the City of Casper, Natrona County, fees and grants.

A vote "against" on the ballot is a vote for the total smoking ban. (A vote "for" on the ballot is a vote for the amended 2013 city ordinance that allows smoking in bars and certain other establishments. Regardless, a smoking ban in some form will remain in effect.)

Besides better health outcomes, Weidenbach said evidence from similar bans elsewhere saves money for patients and hospitals.

Hospitals in communities with such bans don't have as much uncompensated care from patients affected by smoking who are not able to pay their entire bill, she said. Community hospitals such as the Wyoming Medical Center must accept all patients including those who are uninsured or under-insured, those who are unable to pay, or those who are unwilling to pay for their care.

Fewer visits from such patients means the hospitals don't have to socialize their losses as much, and patients who can pay don't have to subsidize those who cannot, she said.

"So ultimately we all pay the price," Wiedenbach said. "And we know that comprehensive smoking bans change the cultural norms around smoking and being exposed to secondhand smoke."

Weidenbach realizes that if Casper voters favor the total ban, those who frequent the places that allow smoking will be just drive to bars outside the city limits and smoke there.

But even a Casper-only ban will make the unhealthy choice a bit harder and less convenient, she said. "We know that kind of prevention works."

Weidenbach said she isn't telling people how to vote.

"My job as the public health director is to present the evidence in support of a health policy, and in this case the evidence is overwhelming," she said.

"We're here to educate people," Weidenbach said. "That is my job, and I wouldn't be doing my job if I were not promoting this very evidence-based health policy in my community."