Voters Across America Express Support for Smoke-Free Air

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Director, Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund

Nov. 9 2005

Washington, DC — From coast to coast, voters on Tuesday delivered a loud and clear message at the ballot box: There is strong and growing support for the right to breathe smoke-free air.

By a margin of 62.5 percent to 37.5 percent, Washington state voters approved a ballot initiative to make all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, smoke-free. In New York City, voters overwhelmingly re-elected Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who championed the city's comprehensive smoke-free workplace law that has inspired other cities, states and even entire countries to go smoke-free. In New Jersey, voters elected as their next governor U.S. Senator Jon Corzine, who endorsed legislation to make New Jersey workplaces smoke-free while his opponent did not.

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. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, secondhand smoke is responsible for at least 38,000 deaths nationwide each year. 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.

Washington is the ninth state to adopt a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free workplace law that includes restaurants and bars. It joins California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Florida, Idaho, Utah and Montana have passed statewide smoke-free laws that exempt only stand-alone bars (Montana's law will extend to bars in 2009). Hundreds of cities and counties have taken action as well, as have whole countries including Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Italy and New Zealand.

Voters in New Jersey and New York City made statements by electing candidates who are known champions of smoke-free workplace laws. Jon Corzine was the only candidate for New Jersey Governor to take a brave stance in support of a strong smoke-free workplace law. We urge Governor-elect Corzine and the New Jersey Legislature to act quickly to pass such legislation covering all workplaces.

In Mayor Bloomberg, voters in New York City have re-elected one of our nation's most dedicated leaders in the fight against tobacco use and its terrible toll. New Yorkers recognize that Mayor Bloomberg has made New York City a significantly healthier place by supporting scientifically proven measures to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, including the comprehensive smoke-free workplace law, higher tobacco taxes and programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. As a result, smoking rates in New York City have declined by more than twice the rate of the entire nation. From 2002 to 2004, smoking rates among New York adults declined by about 15 percent, compared to about seven percent nationally. These declines mean there are 188,000 fewer smokers in New York City and 60,000 fewer New Yorkers who will die a premature death because of tobacco.

The evidence is 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. An April 2005 study by the Harvard School of Public Health 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."

It's time to protect everyone's right to breathe clean air.

 

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