Mar. 5 2007
Washington, DC — We applaud Governor Phil Bredesen for his leadership and foresight in announcing a plan to combat the number one preventable cause of death and disease in Tennessee – tobacco use. Governor Bredesen has proposed solutions that will improve both the physical and financial health of Tennesseans for generations to come by reducing smoking, saving lives and reducing smoking-caused healthcare costs. Governor Bredesen’s proposal will deliver the maximum health and economic benefits for Tennessee by implementing all three of the most effective policies to reduce smoking – a strong smoke-free workplace law that includes restaurants and bars, a higher cigarette tax and well-funded programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.
Governor Bredesen’s proposal for a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free workplace law that includes restaurants and bars is the fairest and most easily implemented solution to protecting the right of ALL Tennessee workers and the public to breathe clean, smoke-free air. As the U.S. Surgeon General concluded in a landmark report last year, only strong smoke-free policies provide effective protection from the serious health harms of secondhand smoke without harming business. By calling for a statewide smoke-free law with no exemptions or weakening provisions, Governor Bredesen has followed the prescription of the U.S. Surgeon General for the only way to protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air. Nobody should have to choose between a good job and good health.
Governor Bredesen has also called for increasing the state’s below-average cigarette tax by 40 cents per pack with a portion of the revenue dedicated to a statewide tobacco prevention and cessation program. These steps are a win-win-win solution for the state that will reduce smoking and save lives, protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air and raise revenue for critical health programs.
The need for protection from secondhand smoke in all workplaces and public places has never been clearer. In issuing his groundbreaking report last June, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona stated, “The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard that causes premature death and disease in children and nonsmoking adults.” The Surgeon General found that secondhand smoke is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome. The Surgeon General also found that secondhand smoke is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the United States each year and that there is no risk-free level of exposure.
As evidenced by the recent additions of the Tennessee Restaurant Association and the Tennessee Hotel and Lodging Association to the growing list of business organizations across the nation that support strong smoke-free workplace laws, the evidence is clear that these laws protect health without harming business. As the U.S. Surgeon General concluded, “Evidence from peer-reviewed studies shows that smoke-free policies and regulations do not have an adverse impact on the hospitality industry.” Tennessee should act quickly to join Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and 16 states that have passed smoke-free laws that include restaurants and bars. The states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in Tennessee, claiming more than 9,500 lives each year and costing the state $2.2 billion annually in health care bills, including $680 million in Medicaid payments alone. Government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $614 each year on every Tennessee household. Currently, 26.3 percent of Tennessee high school students smoke, which is higher than the national average of 23 percent, and 8,400 more kids become regular smokers every year.
We look forward to the Governor and Legislature working together to pass a comprehensive statewide smoke-free workplace law, a significant cigarette tax increase and full funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs. In doing so, they can leave a legacy of improved health and reduced health care costs for generations to come.