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New CDC Study Underscores Momentum to Pass Smoke-Free Workplace Laws But Many States and Localities Still Need to Act

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
July 07, 2005

Washington, DC — A new study published today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) underscores the strong momentum across the country to pass comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws that protect everyone from the serious health risks of secondhand smoke. But the study also shows that we have a long way to go in protecting everyone’s right to breathe clean air. At the end of 2004, 16 states still had no laws restricting workplace smoking, and many other states did not have comprehensive laws that cover all indoor workplaces, including restaurants and bars. As a result, many workers and customers are still exposed to an entirely preventable health hazard, and food-service workers and bartenders are especially at risk.

Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including at least 69 known carcinogens, and is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease and other serious diseases. The CDC estimates that exposure to secondhand smoke causes at least 38,000 deaths each year. It’s time for every state and community to protect the health of their citizens by passing comprehensive smoke-free laws that cover all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, and protect all workers and customers. No one should have to choose between a good job and good health.

The good news in the CDC study is that a number of states strengthened workplace-smoking laws from 1999 to 2004, while none weakened their laws. The study found that ten states strengthened their smoking restrictions for private-sector worksites, nine strengthened restrictions for restaurants, and five strengthened restrictions for bars. Including states that have taken action this year, eight states now have strong smoke-free workplace laws that cover restaurants and bars - California, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont (Vermont’s law will be extended to bars on September 1). Three other states - Florida, Idaho and Utah - have smoke-free laws that include restaurants. Earlier this year, Montana passed a smoke-free law that will include restaurants beginning October 1 and extend to bars in 2009. Hundreds of cities and counties have also enacted strong smoke-free laws. The diverse range of cities that have recently done so include Columbus, Ohio; Austin, Texas; Lexington, Kentucky; Athens, Georgia; and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Altogether, more than 35 percent of the U.S. population is now covered by strong smoke-free workplace laws. Several entire countries have also gone smoke-free, including Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Bhutan, New Zealand and Italy.

The momentum to enact smoke-free laws is not surprising given the growing evidence that these laws both protect health and do not harm business. As the CDC study notes, “Peer-reviewed studies relying on objective indicators such as sales tax revenue and employment levels have consistently found that smoking restrictions do not have a negative economic impact on restaurants and bars. Studies have also reported high levels of public support for and compliance with these laws.” The evidence is overwhelming and crystal clear: Smoke-free laws protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air without harming business.

(The new study is being published in the July 8, 2005, issue of the CDC journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).