Houston, Texas, Takes Historic Stand… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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Houston, Texas, Takes Historic Stand for Right to Breathe Smoke-Free Air

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
October 19, 2006

Washington, DC — The Houston City Council, with the strong support of Mayor Bill White, has taken a historic stand for the public’s right to breathe clean air by approving a comprehensive smoke-free workplace ordinance that includes restaurants and bars. The Houston leaders who supported the ordinance will leave a legacy of improved health for Houston residents, workers and visitors for generations to come. Houston joins the ranks of world-class cities that have acted to protect ALL workers and the public from the serious health hazards of secondhand smoke. Houston’s example should spur other communities in Texas – indeed states and communities across the United States – to pass strong smoke-free laws and protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air.

With the addition of Houston, six of the 10 most populous cities in the United States are now or soon will be covered by strong smoke-free laws that include restaurants and bars – the others are New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego and San Jose. Fourteen states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico have also enacted such laws. The states are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii (effective Nov. 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 other states – Florida and Idaho – have smoke-free laws that exempt only stand-alone bars. Hundreds of other cities and counties have also passed strong smoke-free laws.

A growing number of countries have also taken action. The latest example is France, which last 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.

Across the country and the world, public officials can no longer ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence, confirmed by the recent Surgeon General’s report, that secondhand smoke causes serious diseases and premature death. All of us should be able to earn a living or enjoy a night out without being exposed to these risks. In issuing his groundbreaking report on secondhand smoke on June 27, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona stated, “The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard.” The Surgeon General 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).

We applaud the leadership and foresight of Mayor White and the Council members who championed this legislation and successfully fought back weakening amendments. We also congratulate the Breathe Free Houston Coalition for their tireless dedication to protecting the health of all Houston workers and families.

It’s time to protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air.