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New NCI Study Underscores Need for States, Communities to Pass Strong Protections from Secondhand Smoke

Statement by Matthew L. Myers, President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
August 11, 2001

Washington, DC — A comprehensive new study published today in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine shows that our nation has made encouraging progress since 1993 in protecting workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke, but the gains have been greatest in states with strong laws and too many states are still falling short in protecting their citizens. If this was any other toxin, we as a nation would not accept the fact that nearly one-third of our workers are still being exposed to these poisons on a daily basis, as shown by this study. All states and communities need to pass strong laws on secondhand smoke so that the level of worker protection does not depend on where you live.

This study shows that absent strong, comprehensive protections by state and local governments, voluntary action by employers is not enough to protect many workers from secondhand smoke. The five states with the highest rates of smoke-free workplace protections – Utah, Maryland, California, Massachusetts and Vermont – all have strong state or local laws restricting smoking in workplaces and other public places. The responsibility of protecting citizens from the dangers of secondhand smoke clearly lies with our elected leaders.

Today's study, conducted by researchers at the National Cancer Institute, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of California at San Diego, is the largest and most detailed examination of trends in workplace smoking restrictions in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The study involved interviews in 1993, 1996 and 1999 with over 270,000 private sector worker who were questioned about the existence of official workplace rules by the U.S. Census Bureau for NCI.

The good news is that, nationally, 68.6 percent of all indoor workers reported working under a smoke-free policy in 1999, compared to 46 percent in 1993. In 1993, only two states, Washington and Utah, had 60 percent of their workers reporting a smoke-free policy; 47 states and the District Columbia have now reached this level of coverage.

The bad news is that more than 30 percent of workers still report being unprotected by smoke-free workplace policies and progress has been uneven across the country. It is shameful that 40 percent or more of workers in Nevada, Kentucky, Indiana, South Dakota and Michigan report a lack of workplace protection from secondhand smoke.

It is also important to note that, despite the well-documented dangers of secondhand smoke, the tobacco industry and its allies continue to mobilize against smoke-free policies, often offering voluntary compliance as an alternative. This study blows yet another hole through the industry's self-serving arguments.

Secondhand smoke kills and sickens. It is responsible for 3,000 cancer deaths and 62,000 deaths from coronary heart disease each year, much of them due to workplace exposure. Secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals and 43 carcinogens, including formaldehyde, cyanide, arsenic, carbon monoxide, methane, benzene and radioactive polonium-210. Today's study shows that while more Americans are being protected from these deadly dangers, there is still much work to be done.

Complete Study

National Cancer Institute Release