Delaware House Bill to Weaken Smoke-Free Law Would Harm Public Health

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Vice President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Mar. 19 2003

Washington, D.C. — A slim majority of the Delaware House of Representatives has voted to weaken the public's right to breathe clean air by creating exemptions to the state's smoke-free indoor workplace law. In addition to exempting bars and taprooms from the new law, the most egregious exemption allows casinos to create smoking sections if they install so-called ventilation systems. A recent study showed such systems are completely inadequate in creating acceptably clean air. The exemptions passed by the House will harm public health and cost lives by increasing the exposure of workers and customers to the poisons in secondhand smoke. We strongly urge the Senate and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner to reject the exemptions and support the existing law.

Delaware's current comprehensive smoke-free law is one of the strongest in the country and has made the state a national leader in protecting the public from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke. It should not be weakened just as the public is starting to benefit. A study released earlier this month showed that Delaware's new law is dramatically reducing exposure to air pollutants known to increase the risk of cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease and stroke. The study also dismissed a tobacco industry-backed solution to introduce ventilation systems rather than smoke-free policies, saying that satisfying the National Ambient Air Quality Standard in this manner was "unachievable."

The main argument for weakening Delaware's law – that it will harm business – has been disproved in other states and communities that have enacted comprehensive smoke-free workplace policies. Despite the tobacco industry's false claims, the facts show that smoke-free laws do not harm and can even improve business. One comprehensive study of restaurant sales tax data from 81 localities in six states found consistently that ordinances restricting smoking in restaurants had no effect on revenues. In addition, such laws, where enacted, reduce health care costs attributable to treating illnesses caused by secondhand smoke. A 1994 federal study showed, for example, that a ban on smoking in public places would save $72 billion, reduce insurance costs and increase job productivity

There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that exposure to secondhand smoke causes disease, disability and death. Secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals and 69 known carcinogens including formaldehyde, cyanide, arsenic, carbon monoxide, methane, benzene and radioactive polonium 210. A recent study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization concluded, "Nonsmokers are exposed to the same carcinogens as active smokers. The study found that even the typical levels of passive exposure have been shown to cause lung cancer" among people who have never smoked. In addition to lung cancer, secondhand smoke is proven to cause heart disease, emphysema and other illnesses and is responsible nationally for thousands of deaths each year. Studies show that kids are especially vulnerable to other people's smoke, suffering more respiratory problems, ear infections and asthma.

The evidence of the dangers of secondhand smoke has prompted a growing number of communities across the United States to protect their citizens' right to breathe clean air, including Dallas, New York City and Boston. Demonstrating the strong public support for such measures, 71 percent of Florida voters in November approved a comprehensive smoke-free law governing restaurants and most indoor workplaces. We urge Delaware's leaders to continue to protect the public's right to breathe clean, smoke-free air and the keep the state's current smoke-free law in place. The evidence is clear that such policies improve health and save lives.

 

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