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Study Proves Smoke-Free Workplace Laws Protect Health

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
September 06, 2004

Washington, DC — As a growing number of communities and states across the country enact smoke-free indoor workplace policies, a new study published today shows that Delaware's smoke-free indoor workplace law dramatically reduced exposure to air pollutants known to increase risk of cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease and stroke. This study is powerful evidence that smoke-free workplace policies improve health and save lives and should spur communities across the country to act quickly to protect the health of their citizens.

Delaware's comprehensive smoke-free workplace law, which is one of the strongest in the country, took effect on November 27, 2002. It prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars and casinos as well as most other workplaces and indoor public spaces.

The study by Repace Associates is the first peer-reviewed study of its kind. It was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The study measured air pollutants in a casino, six bars, and a pool hall in Northern Delaware before and after the state’s smoke-free policy took effect. The study found that, prior to Delaware’s law, all venues were “heavily polluted” with two categories of pollutants (1) indoor respirable particle air pollution (RSP), which averaged 20 times higher than outdoor air levels, and (2) cancer-causing particulate polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PPAH), which averaged five times higher than outdoor air levels. The study found that secondhand smoke contributed to 90 to 95 percent of the first kind of pollutants and 85 to 95 percent of the second kind. Measurements taken in the same locations after the smoke-free policy took effect showed that the levels of both kinds of pollutants were dramatically improved and virtually indistinguishable from outdoor air. The study also dismissed a tobacco industry-backed solution to introduce ventilation systems rather than smoke-free policies.

The Delaware study reached this clear conclusion: “This air quality survey demonstrates conclusively that the health of hospitality workers and patrons is endangered by tobacco smoke pollution. Smoke-free workplace laws eliminate that hazard and provide health protection impossible to achieve through ventilation or air cleaning.”

Today’s study follows a May 2004 study of indoor air pollution (RSPs) in seven cities, performed by the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, that found air pollution levels were 82 percent lower, on average, in venues required by law to be smoke-free compared to those where smoking was permitted. This study found that in cities without smoke-free laws, full-time bar and restaurant employees are exposed on the job to more than four times the average annual limits of fine particulate air pollution recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

There is considerable new evidence on the health effects of secondhand smoke. Because of new evidence that even short-term exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger heart attacks, experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advised persons with heart disease to avoid indoor settings where smoking is allowed. The CDC estimates that secondhand smoke causes at least 35,000 heart disease deaths a year in the United States.

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. Secondhand smoke is proven to cause heart disease, lung cancer and serious respiratory illnesses. A 2002 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. Studies show that kids are especially vulnerable to other people’s smoke, suffering more asthma, bronchitis, ear infections and other ailments.

The evidence is also clear that smoke-free workplace laws protect health without harming business. Numerous studies and economic data from the growing number of smoke-free states and communities across the country all show that smoke-free laws at worst have a neutral impact on the restaurant and bar business and may even have a positive impact. This evidence comes from newly smoke-free states and communities as diverse as New York City, El Paso and the state of Florida. Some of the strongest evidence comes from New York City, where a comprehensive 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.

The growing evidence that secondhand smoke harms health, but smoke-free laws do not harm business, has spurred the growing, bipartisan momentum across the country to protect the public’s right to breathe clean air. Seven states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – have now enacted comprehensive, statewide smoke-free laws. Florida, Idaho and Utah have passed smoke-free laws that exempt only stand-alone bars. A growing number of cities and counties across the country have taken action as well. There is simply no excuse for policymakers not to enact smoke-free workplace laws in every state and community.

Delaware’s outstanding results should spur communities and states across the country to act now to protect the rights of their citizens to breathe clean, smoke-free air. The evidence is clear that such policies improve health and save lives.