New Surgeon General's Report Provides Powerful Boost for Smoke-Free Workplace Laws

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

Jun. 27 2006

Washington, DC - The landmark U.S. Surgeon General's Report on secondhand smoke released today leads to one inescapable conclusion: Only comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws can protect all workers and the public from the serious, proven health risks of secondhand smoke. The report's conclusions make the need for strong and immediate action clear: It's time to protect everyone's right to breathe clean air.

The report finds:

  • The scientific evidence that secondhand smoke causes serious diseases, including lung cancer, heart disease and respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma, is massive and conclusive. There is no longer a scientific controversy or any scientific debate. * There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke has substantial and immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system.
  • Establishing smoke-free workplaces is the only effective way to ensure that secondhand smoke exposure does not occur in the workplace.
  • Smoke-free workplace policies are effective in reducing secondhand smoke exposure. Separating smokers from nonsmokers in the same air space, cleaning the air and ventilating buildings are not effective at eliminating exposure of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke.
  • Smoke-free policies and regulations do not have an adverse economic impact on the hospitality industry.

The report's message to elected officials and employers is also crystal clear: No excuses, no half measures. The report eliminates any excuses for failing to enact comprehensive smoke-free laws that apply to all workplaces and public places. No one should have to be exposed to the serious health risks of secondhand smoke in order to earn a paycheck or visit a restaurant, bar or other venue.

The new report is the most comprehensive and most authoritative scientific report yet issued on the health harms of secondhand smoke and the first Surgeon General's report on secondhand smoke since 1986. By leaving no doubt that secondhand smoke poses significant risks to human health, the report should accelerate the already strong momentum across the United States and around the world to enact comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws.

In the U.S., 14 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico have now passed smoke-free laws that include restaurants and bars. The states are: California, Colorado (effective July 1), Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii (effective Nov. 16, pending Gov. Lingle's signature), Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington (the Montana and Utah laws extend to bars in 2009, while the DC law does so on January 1, 2007). Two other states - Florida and Idaho - have smoke-free laws that exempt only stand-alone bars. Hundreds of cities and counties have also passed strong smoke-free laws.

At least 11 countries have enacted nationwide smoke-free laws that include restaurants and bars. They are Bermuda, Bhutan, England (effective 2007), Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Northern Ireland (effective 2007), Norway, Scotland, Sweden, and Uruguay.

As the new report concludes, 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 2004 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 were complying with the law, and the vast majority of New Yorkers supported the law. 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 in July 2004. Other smoke-free countries, states and cities have had similar experiences.

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.

The new report should also discredit once and for all the effort by some tobacco companies to challenge the science on secondhand smoke, as they long did regarding the health impact of direct smoking, and their attempts to promote policies that would permit extensive exposure to secondhand smoke in bars, restaurants and other places. For example, pending smoke-free ballot initiatives in Arizona and Ohio are facing strong opposition from groups backed by Reynolds American (formerly R.J. Reynolds) and other tobacco interests, which have introduced their own counter-initiatives that would permit widespread indoor smoking. These alternative initiatives are being pitched to voters with blatantly deceptive names such as the Arizona Non-Smoker Protection Act and Smoke Less Ohio.

In light of the new Surgeon General's report, voters and elected officials should reject the tobacco companies' discredited arguments and protect everyone's right to breathe clean air by enacting comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws.