This month marks the 25th anniversary of a landmark report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that, for the first time, classified secondhand smoke as a Group A carcinogen, known to cause cancer in humans. This classification was a critical step in the tobacco control movement, leading to a wave of new state and local bills creating comprehensive, smoke-free air laws to help protect all workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke.
While this report jumpstarted a smoke-free movement, it also spurred the tobacco industry to take action to block this type of proven legislation by creating doubt in the minds of consumers about the validity of these credible sources. In fact, internal documents from the tobacco industry show how serious they were about keeping the dangers of secondhand smoke a secret. In their own communications, which were turned over to the court in United States v. Philip Morris, it’s clear they knew how real this risk was to the population.
Over the last quarter century, the tobacco industry has worked hard to stall legislation that would protect Americans from secondhand smoke. But ACS CAN and our public health partners continue to advocate for smoke-free laws until all workplaces are smoke-free. Currently, nearly 60 percent of the nation’s population is protected from secondhand smoke at work. But much work remains. ACS CAN looks forward to working with its partners in states and localities across the country during the 2018 legislative sessions to increase that number and build on key smoke-free victories gained in 2017.
Late in 2017, Fort Worth, Texas celebrated a major public health win when they passed a local smoke-free ordinance joining more than 80 cities in Texas that have gone smoke-free. It’s rewarding to see local lawmakers making great strides to protect their citizens and gives us hope for a statewide movement. Louisiana marked another great success in 2017 with East Baton Rouge passing a smoke-free ordinance, following in the footsteps of New Orleans in 2015. However, the tobacco industry was successful in their tactic to delay implementation of the ordinance, pushing it back until June 2018. Delays like these afford the tobacco industry an opportunity to buy time to weaken the measure. ACS CAN stands ready to defend the ordinance and work with lawmakers to ensure it goes into effect as intended. By the end of 2017, a total of 42 new smoke-free laws covering all workplaces including restaurants and bars were implemented across the country.
In 2018, ACS CAN will be working in Atlanta alongside a coalition of public health partners to launch a new city-wide, smoke-free campaign that would not only include restaurants and bars, but one of the world’s busiest airports – Hartford-Jackson airport. According to a recent poll, this effort has the support of three-quarters of Atlanta voters (76 percent).
In Alaska, ACS CAN will continue its efforts to push the state to go smoke-free which currently has the support of an overwhelming majority (88 percent) of Alaskan voters. ACS CAN is optimistic that lawmakers will put the health of their constituents first and remove secondhand smoke in workplaces.
As the number one cause of preventable death, ACS CAN is proud of the work happening across the country to reduce the toll of tobacco and to protect Americans from secondhand smoke. The anniversary of the EPA’s report is a great reminder that the science is clear on the death and disease caused by tobacco. We look forward to advancing lifesaving legislation on this issue in 2018 and beyond.