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Archive for Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Task force chair supports smoking ban

April 20, 2004

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As chair of a Mayor's Task Force on Environmental Tobacco Smoke, I have, during the past year, accumulated and studied a large amount of information pertaining to secondhand tobacco smoke. My review of scientific research has convinced me that nonsmokers suffer a wide range of adverse health consequences due to the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers or from the end of lit cigarettes.

The health risk for workers with long-term and intense exposure to tobacco smoke in workplaces such as restaurants and bars is particularly troublesome. The restaurant industry now employs more workers than any other industry in America. It is in this industry that the fastest rate of job growth is occurring.

Opponents of municipal ordinances designed to protect employees from tobacco smoke often say that hospitality industry employees can choose to work in an unhealthy environment or they can choose to work somewhere else. The truth is they really don't have a choice. People must work where they can get a job.

Furthermore, it is a well-established principle in the United States that employers cannot, where hazards are preventable, force employees to choose between unsafe, unhealthy working conditions or termination from their jobs. Most employees in this country are protected from preventable, toxic emissions by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and by the regulations issued and administered by that agency.

OSHA recognized the hazards of secondhand tobacco smoke and issued proposed regulations that would have protected all employees in all workplaces. Due to an intense lobbying campaign by the tobacco, licensed beverage and restaurant industries, the regulations were never adopted. Responsibility for protecting employees from one of the most serious workplace hazards in America has become the responsibility of states and local governments.

For these reasons, I urge the Lawrence City Commission to adopt an ordinance that protects all workers in all workplaces at all times -- such as has been done in a large number of cities such as Tempe, Ariz.; Albuquerque, N.M.; El Paso, Texas; Bloomington, Ind.; Eugene and Corvallis, Ore.; and a large number of other cities and states. The best studies available show that there is no net loss of business to the hospitality industry in cities and states where such protection has been enacted. Compromises such as limited hours do not protect employee health.

Employees typically will not speak out in support of an effort opposed by their employers. Privately, however, many in town say they would be relieved to work in a smoke-free environment.

Most cities and states are beginning to consider the issues I have raised in this letter and most will probably soon move toward doing the right thing. Now is the time for Lawrence to provide its largest group of employees protection from toxic secondhand tobacco smoke.

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