New York Legislature Sets Example For the Nation By Passing Statewide Bill Protecting Public’s Right to Breathe Smoke-Free Air

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

Mar. 26 2003

Washington, D.C. — The New York Legislature's overwhelming approval today of one of the strongest statewide smoke-free workplace laws in the nation is an historic victory for public health and the public's right to breathe clean air. The legislation, approved by both the Senate and the Assembly, covers almost every restaurant, bar and indoor workplace in the state and is even more comprehensive than the strong law that takes effect in New York City on March 30. We urge Governor George Pataki to quickly sign this legislation into law. The New York Legislature's actions today underscore the growing momentum across the country to protect the public's right to breathe clean air, free from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke isn't just annoying. It's a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease and other health hazards. All employees and customers should be protected from these dangers.

If the New York legislation becomes law, three of the nation's four largest states – California, New York and Florida – should soon have strong smoke-free workplace laws. California's smoke-free law was passed in 1994 and strengthened in 1998, making it the first state to include bars. The Florida Legislature currently is writing legislation implementing the constitutional amendment approved by 71 percent of the state's voters in November requiring most indoor workplaces, including restaurants, to be smoke-free. Florida legislators should heed the will of the voters and approve a strong law free of the loopholes the tobacco industry and its allies are advocating. The Delaware Legislature should also reject efforts to weaken their comprehensive smoke-free law, which took effect in November. In addition to New York City, other communities that have recently enacted strong smoke-free policies include Boston, Dallas and Albuquerque. The many other states and communities considering smoke-free laws should act quickly to protect the rights of their citizens to breathe clean air. We also urge other states to follow New York's lead in not preempting the right of local governments to enact even stronger smoke-free measures.

New York legislators did the right thing to improve public health. 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. 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.

Smoke-free air laws are good for the economy and business. Despite the tobacco industry's false claims that these measures can hurt business, the facts show that smoke-free laws do no 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 as much as $72 billion, lower insurance costs, and increase job productivity.

 

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