Sep. 17 2003
Washington, D.C. — It's time for Washington DC's leaders to join a growing number of states and communities across the nation in protecting the public's right to breathe clean air, free from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke. We join religious leaders in the District who today are calling on Mayor Tony Williams and the City Council to pass a comprehensive smoke-free law that covers all indoor workplaces and public places. Secondhand smoke isn't just annoying; it's a scientifically proven cause of serious health problems, including lung cancer, heart disease and chronic lung ailments such as bronchitis and asthma. Everyone should be able to earn a living and enjoy dinner or a drink without putting their health at risk.
As our nation's Capital, DC should be leader in protecting the public's right to breathe clean air. Unfortunately, DC has fallen woefully behind the growing number of states and communities that have taken decisive action. Five states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine and New York – have now enacted comprehensive, statewide smoke-free laws. In Florida, all workplaces, with the exception of some stand-alone bars, are now smoke-free as a result of a constitutional amendment approved by 71 percent of voters last year. Other jurisdictions that have recently enacted strong smoke-free policies include New York City (prior to the New York state law), Boston, Dallas, Albuquerque, Bloomington, IN, Pueblo, CO, Lexington, KY, and Montgomery County, MD. Altogether, such laws now protect more than a quarter of the U.S. population – more than 70 million people. DC's residents and visitors deserve the same protection from secondhand smoke.
Smoke-free is good for health. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including 69 known carcinogens such as formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, benzene, and radioactive polonium 210. A study issued last year 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. Studies have shown that secondhand smoke is responsible nationally for thousands of deaths each year. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are especially vulnerable, suffering more asthma, bronchitis, ear infections and other ailments.
Smoke-free laws don't hurt business. Contrary to opponents' claims that smoke-free laws hurt business, numerous economic studies have consistently shown that such laws do not harm sales or employment in restaurants and bars and may even have a positive impact. For example, in California, which in 1998 became the first state to include bars in a smoke-free law, restaurant and bar sales grew at a faster rate after the law took effect, while employment continued to grow at about the same rate. Today, California's law is overwhelmingly popular with bar owners, employees and the public. Early economic data in New York City, which went smoke-free in March, show jobs being added in the hospitality industry and tourism increasing since the law took effect. Smoke-free is good for health and good for business, and Washington, DC should join in enjoying these many benefits.