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JAMA Study Finds Scotland's Smoke-Free Law Quickly Improved Bar Workers' Health, Shows Why All Workplaces Should be Smoke-Free

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
October 11, 2006

Washington, DC — A new study in the October 11 issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) finds that bar workers in Scotland showed significant improvements in respiratory health and lung function within one month after that country's smoke-free workplace law took effect on March 26, 2006.

The JAMA study is an important addition to the growing body of scientific evidence that smoke-free laws provide significant and rapid health benefits. Along with the U.S. Surgeon General's report on secondhand smoke issued this summer and other recent studies on the health benefits of smoke-free laws, the new study shows that elected officials have no excuse for failing to enact comprehensive smoke-free laws that apply to all workplaces and public places. The more we learn about the dangers of secondhand smoke and the benefits of smoke-free laws, the more unacceptable it becomes for anyone to be exposed to these serious health hazards in order to earn a paycheck or to go out to a restaurant or bar. It is time to protect everyone's right to breathe clean air in the United States and around the world.

The new JAMA study measured the respiratory health of bar workers in Tayside, Scotland, before and after the country's smoke-free law took effect. The researchers found that bar workers experienced improvements in both respiratory symptoms, which include cough, wheezing and shortness of breath, and sensory irritation symptoms, which include eye, nose and throat irritation. There was a 26 percent decline in the number of workers experiencing respiratory or sensory symptoms after one month, increasing to a 32.4 percent decline after two months. Bar workers also experienced improvements in lung function, and asthmatic bar workers had less airway inflammation and an increase in quality of life scores.

The unacceptability of exposure to secondhand smoke is underscored by the growing number of countries, states and cities that have enacted smoke-free laws, including countries where public smoking has long been considered part of the culture. The latest example is France, which this week announced plans to phase in smoke-free regulations that will extend to restaurants and bars on January 1, 2008. France will join a growing number of countries that have implemented or enacted smoke-free laws, including Ireland, Italy, England (effective 2007), Scotland, Bermuda, Bhutan, New Zealand, Northern Ireland (effective 2007), Norway, Sweden and Uruguay. Now that France's bistros will be joining Ireland's pubs and Italy's cafes in going smoke-free, the message is clear that smoke-free laws can and should be enacted everywhere.

In the United States, 14 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico have now passed smoke-free laws that include restaurants and bars. The states are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii (effective November 16), Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington (the Montana and Utah laws extend to bars in 2009, while the DC law does so on January 1, 2007). Two states – Florida and Utah – have smoke-free laws that exempt only stand-alone bars. Hundreds of cities and counties have also passed strong smoke-free laws.

On November 7, voters in three more states – Arizona, Nevada and Ohio – will have the opportunity to enact strong smoke-free laws. As the evidence grows of the health risks of secondhand smoke and the benefits of smoke-free laws, the tobacco companies are growing increasingly desperate in their opposition to such laws. In Arizona and Ohio, tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds' is trying to defeat the real smoke-free ballot initiatives (Proposition 201 in Arizona, Issue 5 in Ohio) by sponsoring fake initiatives (Proposition 206 in Arizona, Issue 4 in Ohio) that claim to restrict smoking when in fact they would allow smoking in many restaurants and other workplaces, roll back existing local smoke-free laws and prevent local governments from passing smoke-free laws in the future. RJR is spending millions of dollars to pitch these fake initiatives to voters with blatantly deceptive names such as Arizona Non-Smoker Protection Act and Smoke Less Ohio. Voters should reject the tobacco companies' latest lies and support effective measures that will provide real protection from harmful secondhand smoke.

The JAMA study follows the release this summer of the U.S. Surgeon General's report on secondhand smoke, which found that secondhand smoke is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome. The Surgeon General also found that secondhand smoke is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the U.S. each year, there is no safe level of exposure, only smoke-free policies provide effective protection, and smoke-free laws protect health without harming business (the latter conclusion is supported by dozens of scientific studies and the experience of the growing number of smoke-free countries, states and cities). The Surgeon General's conclusion was crystal clear: 'The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard that causes premature death and disease in children and nonsmoking adults.'