D.C. Council Takes Important Step Toward Making Nation’s Capital Smoke-Free, But Undermines Efforts With Potential Loophole

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Jan. 4 2006

Washington, DC — The smoke-free workplace legislation approved today by the D.C. Council is an important step toward protecting the public’s right to breathe clean air in the Nation’s Capitol. However, it is disappointing that the Council failed to close a potential loophole that exempts facilities that obtain 10 percent or more of their revenue from the sale of tobacco products. This loophole could undermine the goal of the legislation to protect ALL workers and customers from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke and provide an incentive for some businesses to push the sale of tobacco products, which are the nation’s leading preventable cause of death. It will be essential that the Council carefully monitor the implementation of the legislation and take immediate action to close this loophole if it is exploited, as Council members promised to do today. Secondhand smoke isn’t just annoying, but a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease and other serious health hazards. No one should have to choose between a good job and good health.

Nevertheless, this legislation is a significant step forward that will provide important protection from secondhand smoke in the District’s workplaces, including restaurants and bars, when it takes full effect on January 1, 2007. We urge Mayor Anthony Williams to follow the lead of the overwhelming Council majority, as well as the wishes of the 74 percent of D.C. residents and the more than 80 local organizations that support a comprehensive smoke-free law, and sign this bill into law. Mayor Williams should act on the basis of the mountain of evidence that smoke-free laws protect health without harming business. It is time for the Nation’s Capitol to join the nine states, hundreds of communities and even entire countries that have enacted comprehensive smoke-free laws that protect everyone’s health and everyone’s right to breathe clean air.

We commend the members of the D.C. Council who have championed this legislation and Health Committee Chairman David Catania for moving this bill forward. We also applaud Councilmembers Adrian Fenty, Kwame Brown and Kathy Patterson for offering amendments today aimed at strengthening the bill and eliminating loopholes. The Council took a step in the right direction by approving an amendment to require that the Council approve regulations regarding a business “hardship” exemption, rather than leaving this determination entirely to the discretion of the Mayor. As these regulations are developed, it is important that the Mayor and the Council ensure that they are stringent and clear and guard against any efforts to create yet another loophole that undermines the legislation.

In passing this legislation, Washington, D.C. moves toward joining the nine states that have enacted comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws that include restaurants and bars. These states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. 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 across the country, from Austin to Minneapolis to Columbus, have also taken action, as have whole countries including Ireland, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden and Italy.

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.

It is time for every state and every community in the country to protect the public’s right to breathe clean air.

 

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