May. 10 2005
Washington, DC — Standing up for their right to breathe clean air, the citizens of Columbus, Ohio, and Austin, Texas, in the past week have voted for comprehensive laws that require all workplaces, restaurants and bars to be smoke-free. These votes underscore the strong public support and growing momentum across the country for smoke-free laws that protect all workers and all customers from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke isn’t just annoying, but a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease and other serious health hazards. All of us should be protected from these dangers regardless of where we work. It is time for every state and every community in the country to protect the public’s right to breathe clean air.
By a 56 to 44 margin, Columbus voters on May 3rd upheld the city’s ordinance requiring all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, to be smoke-free, defeating an attempt to weaken the law by exempting bars. Columbus voters had approved this comprehensive ordinance in November 2004. In Austin, by a margin of 52 to 48, voters on Saturday approved a ballot measure to extend the city’s smoke-free law to bars, music venues, bowling alleys and restaurants that had previously been exempted.
Columbus and Austin have become part of the growing, bipartisan movement across the country and the world to protect the public’s right to breathe clean air. Seven states - California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island - have now enacted comprehensive, statewide smoke-free laws. Florida, Idaho and Utah have passed statewide smoke-free laws that exempt only stand-alone bars. Hundreds of cities and counties have taken action as well, as have whole countries including Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Italy and New Zealand.
Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals and at least 69 carcinogens and is proven to cause lung cancer, heart disease and other serious respiratory illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is responsible for thousands of deaths each year. Recently, experts at the CDC advised 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. Children are especially vulnerable to other people’s smoke, suffering more bronchitis, asthma and ear infections as a result. A January 2005 study also found that exposure to secondhand smoke has a negative impact on children’s performance on tests measuring reading, math and reasoning skills.
The evidence is also clear that smoke-free laws protect health without harming business. Dozens of studies and hard economic data have shown that smoke-free laws do not harm sales or employment in restaurants and bars and may even have a positive impact. A study released by the Harvard School of Public Health last month found that Massachusetts’ smoke-free law did not affect sales or employment in the state’s restaurants, bars and nightclubs after taking effect on July 5, 2004. Some of the strongest evidence comes from New York City, where a report found that in the year after the city’s 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. Even among bar and restaurant owners, support for New York’s law has grown. James McBratney, President of the Staten Island Restaurant and Tavern Association, was quoted in the Feb. 6, 2005, issue of The New York Times saying ''I have to admit, I've seen no falloff in business in either establishment [restaurant or bar].'' According to The Times, “He went on to describe what he once considered unimaginable: Customers actually seem to like it, and so does he.”