D.C. Smoke-Free Workplace Law Is Victory for Right to Breathe Clean Air

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

Jan. 30 2006

Washington, DC — The smoke-free workplace legislation that D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams allowed to become law without his signature today is a historic victory for the public’s right to breathe clean air in the Nation's Capital and adds to the growing momentum to enact such laws across the country and around the world. We are pleased that Mayor Williams chose not to veto this legislation. The evidence is clear that smoke-free laws protect health without harming business. We applaud the D.C. Council members who have championed this legislation and the entire Council for its 11 to 1 vote to pass the bill. Secondhand smoke isn't just annoying, but a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease and other serious health hazards. Beginning on January 1, 2007, District workers will no longer have to choose between a good job and good health.

The new law will apply immediately to restaurant dining areas (after completion of a Congressional review period) and extend to all District workplaces, including restaurants and bars, on January 1, 2007. The challenge now is for Mayor Williams and the Council to effectively implement and enforce the law so it protects all workers and patrons, as it is intended to do. It is critical that D.C. leaders ensure that potential loopholes in the bill are not exploited. One potential loophole exempts facilities that obtain 10 percent or more of their revenue from the sale of tobacco products. This provision should not be allowed to become an incentive for some businesses to push the sale of tobacco products, which are the nation’s leading preventable cause of death. It will also be critical for the Council and Mayor to develop regulations for the business “hardship” exemption that are stringent and clear to guard against abuse.

With this new law, Washington, D.C. joins ten states that have enacted smoke-free workplace laws that include restaurants and bars. These states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, 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 follow the lead of our Nation’s Capital and protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air.

 

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