Maine Becomes Fifth State to Pass Comprehensive Smoke-Free Workplace Law

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

Jun. 16 2003

Washington, D.C. — Maine has joined a growing list of states and communities across the country that have taken decisive action to protect the public's right to breathe clean air, free from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke. Governor John Baldacci this week is expected to sign legislation passed by the Senate on June 13 (and earlier by the House) that extends Maine's smoke-free law, which previously included restaurants, to include almost all workplaces, including bars. This is an historic victory for the health of Maine's citizens and a significant step toward making the entire northeast free of secondhand smoke in the workplace. Secondhand smoke isn't just annoying; it's a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease and other health hazards. All employees and customers in every state should be protected from these dangers.

Maine's actions underscore the growing, bipartisan momentum across the country to protect the public's right to breathe clean air. Maine becomes the fifth state to enact a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free workplace law that includes bars, joining Connecticut and New York, which passed laws earlier this year; Delaware, which passed its law last year; and California, which first passed its law in 1994 and became the first state to include bars in 1998. In Florida, the Legislature recently approved legislation implementing a constitutional amendment approved by 71 percent of the state's voters that requires restaurants and other workplaces to be smoke-free, with the exception of stand-alone bars that earn no more than 10 percent of their revenue from food sales. Other jurisdictions that have recently enacted strong smoke-free workplace policies include New York City (prior to the New York state law), Boston, Dallas, Austin, Albuquerque, Bloomington, IN, and Pueblo, CO.

With comprehensive smoke-free laws currently moving through the legislatures in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, almost all indoor workplaces in the northeastern United States could soon be smoke-free. We urge leaders in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to join New York, Connecticut and Maine and quickly enact their comprehensive smoke-free bills. Vermont and New Hampshire should act as well to eliminate exemptions in their laws. Vermont's already strong law currently exempts only stand-alone bars, while New Hampshire's law excludes all bars.

Maine 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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