Rhode Island Becomes Seventh State To Pass Comprehensive Smoke-Free Workplace Law

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

Jun. 25 2004

Washington, DC — In a historic victory for the health of Rhode Island citizens, the state Legislature has approved a comprehensive smoke-free indoor workplace law that includes restaurants and bars. Rhode Island becomes the seventh state to take decisive action to protect the public’s right to breathe clean air, free from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke. The law will cover workplaces, including restaurants and most bars, beginning March 1, 2005, and extend to all bars on October 1, 2006. Secondhand smoke isn’t just annoying; it’s scientifically proven to cause lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other illnesses and is responsible nationally for thousands of deaths each year. All of us should be able to earn a living, dine in a restaurant or enjoy a night out without putting our health at risk because of secondhand smoke.

We applaud Rhode Island’s leaders for their foresight in addressing this critical public health issue and congratulate the Campaign for a Healthy Rhode for their extraordinary and tireless efforts in advocating for the health of the state’s citizens.

Rhode Island becomes the seventh state to pass a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free workplace law that covers restaurants and bars, joining California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts and New York. Florida, Idaho and Utah have passed statewide smoke-free laws that exempt only stand-alone bars. A growing number of cities and counties across the country have also enacted strong smoke-free laws, underscoring the growing, bipartisan momentum to protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air. The many other states and communities considering smoke-free laws should act quickly to protect the rights and health of their citizens as well.

Smoke-free laws protect health. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals and 69 known carcinogens including formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, 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. Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently warned persons with heart disease to avoid settings where smoking is allowed because of the risk that even short-term exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger heart attacks. Studies show that kids are especially vulnerable to other people’s smoke, suffering more respiratory problems, ear infections and asthma.

Smoke-free laws are good for the economy and do not hurt business. Despite the tobacco industry’s false claims that these measures can hurt business, the facts show that smoke-free laws do not harm sales or employment in restaurants and bars and may even have a positive impact. The latest evidence comes from New York City, where a report found that, in the year after the city’s comprehensive smoke-free law took effect March 30, 2003, business receipts for restaurants and bars increased, employment rose, the number of liquor licenses increased, virtually all establishments are complying with the law, and the vast majority of New Yorkers support the law. In addition, smoke-free laws 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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