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Pending North Carolina Smoke-free Legislation Would be a Step Backwards for the Health of North Carolina Citizens

Statement of the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights
August 04, 2005

Washington, DC — Far from protecting public health, the statewide smoke-free legislation that was passed this morning would jeopardize the health of North Carolina's workers and children. The legislation was passed out of House Judiciary Committee One as an amendment to the Substance Abuse Bill (SB 705). Not only does this bill fall far short of protecting the rights of all North Carolinians to breathe smoke-free air, but it also prohibits North Carolina communities from acting independently to pass stronger, effective smoke-free legislation. North Carolina’s leaders must act immediately to reject this enormously flawed bill, which will do little to protect all workers and patrons from the many health risks of secondhand smoke. Failure to do so, in conjunction with the Legislature’s effort to enact as low a cigarette tax as possible, will demonstrate once again that the North Carolina legislature remains beholden to the tobacco industry. Secondhand smoke contains 4,000 toxins and at least 60 carcinogens and is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease and other serious diseases. Everyone in North Carolina should have the right to breathe smoke-free air.

The bill, which is an amendment to SB 705, would halt and reverse any progress that North Carolina has made in protecting its citizens from the serious health harms of secondhand smoke. Because this legislation would not repeal an existing statewide “preemption” provision, individual North Carolina communities remain stripped of the power to act independently to pass strong, local smoke-free ordinances. This destructive provision undercuts an effort that several North Carolina communities have recently pursued to pass local ordinances that would prohibit smoking in all workplaces and protect everyone from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

As written, this bill falls far short of protecting the health of North Carolinians. First, this legislation would continue to allow smoking in many workplaces, including most restaurants and all bars. The bill would further reduce the positive public health impact by giving restaurants the option to use ventilation technology instead of going smoke-free. The problem with ventilation technology is simple: it has been proven incapable of protecting people’s health from the toxins in secondhand smoke. In fact, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the national and international standard setting body on indoor air quality, recently stated, “at present, the only means of effectively eliminating health risks associated with indoor exposure is to ban smoking activity.” The science is clear that 100 percent smoke-free is the only way to protect everyone from secondhand smoke. North Carolina’s leaders must immediately reject this bill for the health its citizens.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), secondhand smoke is responsible for thousands of deaths each year. Recently, experts at the CDC advised persons with heart disease to avoid settings where smoking is allowed because of the risk that even short-term exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger heart attacks.

The evidence is also clear that smoke-free laws protect health without harming business. Dozens of studies and hard economic data have shown that smoke-free laws do not harm sales or employment in restaurants and bars and may even have a positive impact. A study released by the Harvard School of Public Health in April 2005 found that Massachusetts’ smoke-free law did not affect sales or employment in the state’s restaurants, bars and nightclubs after taking effect on July 5, 2004. Some of the strongest evidence comes from New York City, where a report found that in the year after the city’s 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. Even among bar and restaurant owners, support for New York’s law has grown. James McBratney, President of the Staten Island Restaurant and Tavern Association, was quoted in the Feb. 6, 2005, issue of The New York Times saying ''I have to admit, I've seen no falloff in business in either establishment [restaurant or bar].'' According to The Times, “He went on to describe what he once considered unimaginable: Customers actually seem to like it, and so does he.”