Lexington, KY, and Montgomery County, MD, Pass Comprehensive Smoke-Free Workplace Laws

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

Jul. 1 2003

Washington, D.C. — Elected leaders in two more major metropolitan areas – Lexington, Kentucky, and Montgomery County, Maryland – today have taken decisive action to protect the public's right to breathe clean air, free from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke. The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted 11 to three and the Montgomery County Council voted eight to one to pass comprehensive smoke-free measures that apply to almost all indoor workplaces and public places, including restaurants and bars.

These strong votes, from the heart of tobacco country to the doorstep of the nation's Capital, underscore the growing, bipartisan momentum across the country to eliminate secondhand smoke from indoor workplaces and other public places. The Lexington vote is a truly historic step in a tobacco-growing state to protect public health over the interests of the tobacco industry. These actions are an appropriate response to the overwhelming evidence that secondhand smoke isn't just annoying, but a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease and other health hazards. All employees and customers in the U.S. should be protected from secondhand smoke, and we hope today's victories in Lexington and Montgomery County will spur every state and community in the country to protect the public's right to breathe clean air.

The movement to enact such protections has accelerated tremendously in the past year. Five states have now enacted comprehensive, statewide smoke-free workplace laws that include bars: Maine, Connecticut and New York passed laws earlier this year; Delaware passed its law last year, and California first passed its law in 1994 and became the first state to include bars in 1998. In Florida, a new law took effect today 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.

Elected leaders 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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