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Gov. Martz Weakens Public’s Right to Breathe Clean Air

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
April 25, 2003

Washington, D.C. — Less than a month after a new study showed Helena's strong smoke-free workplace law was saving lives, Gov. Judy Martz has chosen to override the will of Helena voters and protect the tobacco industry and other special interests instead. By signing legislation that pokes loopholes in Helena's law, she is strengthening the hand of big state government at the expense of local control over public health and the public's right to breathe clean air. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Governor Martz has protected the interests of the tobacco industry at the expense of Montanans' health. She has also significantly cut funding for the state's tobacco prevention program. In November, Montanans overwhelmingly voted to dedicate $9.3 million of the state's tobacco settlement money for tobacco prevention. We hope Governor Martz and the Legislature will show greater respect in this case for the will of the voters than they have in weakening Helena's smoke-free law.

The benefits of smoke-free policies are clear. A study released earlier this month on the Helena smoke-free ordinance showed heart attacks declined significantly during the time the ordinance was in effect. A study released last month showed that Delaware's new smoke-free law is dramatically reducing exposure to air pollutants known to increase the risk of cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease and stroke.

The main argument for weakening Montana law – that it will harm business – has been disproved in other states and communities that have enacted smoke-free workplace policies. Despite the tobacco industry's false claims, the facts show that smoke-free laws do not harm and can even improve business. One comprehensive study of restaurant sales tax data from 81 localities in six states found consistently that ordinances restricting smoking in restaurants had no effect on revenues. In addition, such laws, where enacted, reduce health care costs attributable to treating illnesses caused by secondhand smoke. A 1994 federal study showed, for example, that a ban on smoking in public places would save up to $72 billion in health care costs and lost productivity, while also reducing insurance costs.

There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that exposure to secondhand smoke causes disease, disability and death. Secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals and 69 known carcinogens including formaldehyde, cyanide, arsenic, carbon monoxide, methane, benzene and radioactive polonium 210. A recent study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization concluded, 'Nonsmokers are exposed to the same carcinogens as active smokers. The study found that even the typical levels of passive exposure have been shown to cause lung cancer' among people who have never smoked. In addition to lung cancer, secondhand smoke is proven to cause heart disease, emphysema and other illnesses and is responsible nationally for thousands of deaths each year. Studies show that kids are especially vulnerable to other people's smoke, suffering more respiratory problems, ear infections and asthma. Every state and community should act quickly to enact smoke-free workplace policies that protect the public's right to breathe clean air and reduce the harm caused by secondhand smoke.

The evidence of the dangers of secondhand smoke has prompted a growing number of states and communities across the United States to protect the public's right to breathe clean air. In the past year Delaware, New York City and state, Dallas and Boston are among the largest jurisdictions to have enacted comprehensive measures. Demonstrating the strong public support for such measures, 71 percent of Florida voters in November approved a comprehensive smoke-free law governing restaurants and most indoor workplaces. It is a shame that while the movement to protect our right to breathe clean air is growing across the country, Gov. Martz is weakening it in Montana.