D.C. Council Takes Important Step Toward Making Nation’s Capital Smoke-free

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

Dec. 6 2005

Washington, DC — We applaud the D.C. Council for taking a significant step today toward enacting a comprehensive smoke-free workplace law that protects the right of everyone in the Nation’s Capital to breathe clean air. In the first of two votes on this historic legislation, the Council sided with the 74 percent of D.C. residents and more than 80 local organizations that support a smoke-free law covering all workplaces, including restaurants and bars. We look forward to a final vote in the near future that will protect all District workers, residents and visitors from the serious health hazards of secondhand smoke. We also urge Mayor Anthony Williams to look at the overwhelming evidence that smoke-free laws protect health without harming business and commit to signing a comprehensive smoke-free workplace bill into law. No one should have to choose between a good job and good health.

While today’s vote is a major step forward, we urge the Council to approve proposed amendments that would eliminate potential loopholes and ensure that this legislation is implemented in the fairest, easiest and most cost-effective way possible. These amendments address two specific concerns. First, the bill in its current form includes a business "hardship" clause that would give the mayor broad discretion to grant exemptions to hospitality establishments. This language would create an uneven playing field for businesses and open a loophole that could undermine the goal of the legislation: to protect ALL workers and customers from secondhand smoke. The D.C. Council should eliminate this provision or establish clear and stringent guidelines for its implementation.

Second, to ensure that the smoke-free law is fair to all businesses and is easily understood and implemented, the law should apply to ALL workplaces, including restaurants and bars, AT THE SAME TIME. The bill as currently written would become comprehensive incrementally. Initially, only the non-bar/eating areas of restaurants would have to be smoke-free, and the bill would extend to all bars and all areas of restaurants on January 1, 2007. This approach is problematic for two reasons. First, this two-phased approach would make implementation of the law more difficult and costly. Second, allowing smoking in "bar areas" would not provide protection from secondhand smoke, as smoke would easily travel to the so-called "non-smoking" section.

We urge the D.C. Council to act quickly to join the nine states that have passed comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws that cover restaurants and bars. These states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Hundreds of cities and counties across the country, from Austin, Texas, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Columbus, Ohio, have taken action, as have whole countries including Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Italy and New Zealand.

Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals and at least 69 known carcinogens and is scientifically proven to cause lung cancer, heart disease and other serious diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is responsible for at least 38,000 deaths nationwide each year. Because of the risk that even short-term exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger heart attacks, the CDC has advised persons with heart disease to avoid settings where smoking is allowed. Children are especially vulnerable to other people’s smoke, suffering more bronchitis, asthma and ear infections as a result. Evidence of the many health harms from secondhand smoke is growing all the time. Recent studies have found that a pregnant woman’s exposure to secondhand smoke can be just as harmful to her fetus as if the woman herself was a smoker and 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 sometimes have a positive impact. Some of the strongest 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. There is also growing evidence that smoke-free laws can save money. A study released in August 2005 by the Society of Actuaries found that secondhand smoke costs our country $10 billion a year in health care bills, lost wages and other costs.

As we hope the District of Columbia will soon experience, going smoke-free is good for health and good for business.

 

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