Vermont Becomes Eighth State to Pass Comprehensive Smoke-Free Workplace Law

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

May. 26 2005

Washington, DC — In a historic victory for the health of Vermont citizens, the Vermont House yesterday approved a bill that extends the state’s smoke-free law to public bars and private clubs, making all Vermont workplaces truly smoke-free. The Senate has approved the bill and Governor James Douglas has indicated that he will sign the legislation, making Vermont the eighth state to pass a comprehensive law that protects everyone’s right to breathe clean air. The law will take effect on September 1, 2005. This vote underscores the 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.

We applaud Vermont State Senators James Leddy and Ginny Lyons, and State Representatives Francis K. Brooks, Ann Pugh and Ann Seibert for their leadership in addressing this critical public health issue. We also congratulate the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Vermont for their extraordinary and tireless efforts in advocating for the health of the state’s citizens.

Vermont becomes the eighth state to pass a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free workplace law that covers restaurants and bars, joining California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. Florida, Idaho, Utah and Montana 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. Just this month, voters in Columbus, Ohio upheld the city’s ordinance requiring all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, to be smoke-free, while voters in Austin, Texas 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. The many other states and communities considering smoke-free laws should act quickly to protect the rights and health of their citizens as well.

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.”

 

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