Jan. 26 2006
Washington, DC — Today’s decision by the California Air Resources Board to classify secondhand smoke as a toxic air contaminant is an appropriate response to the overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence that secondhand smoke poses a serious risk to human health. This decision underscores the need for state and local governments, as well as employers, to adopt comprehensive smoke-free workplace policies that protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air. All workers have the right to earn a living without putting themselves at risk of the life-threatening diseases caused by secondhand smoke. As children are especially vulnerable to the hazards of secondhand smoke, parents who smoke should also take steps, such as keeping their homes and cars smoke-free, to prevent their kids from being exposed to these risks. Better yet, smokers should quit entirely both to protect their own health and the health of their family members.
The California Air Resources Board acted on the basis of a risk assessment report by the highly respected California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) that is the most comprehensive summary to date of the many health hazards caused by secondhand smoke. The CalEPA report reaffirmed the broad scientific consensus that secondhand smoke causes cancer, heart disease, sudden infant death syndrome, low-birth-weight, asthma and other serious respiratory illnesses and is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the United States each year.
CalEPA has long been at the forefront in recognizing the link between secondhand smoke and serious diseases, spurring the enactment of measures such as smoke-free workplace laws that have subsequently been adopted across the nation and the world. Nine other states have now joined California in adopting smoke-free laws that include restaurants and bars; these states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The District of Columbia Council recently passed such legislation, and Mayor Anthony Williams should sign it into law. Four other states – Florida, Idaho, Montana and Utah – have strong 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, and whole countries around the world, have taken action as well, and more are going smoke-free all the time. It’s time to protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air.