WASHINGTON, D.C. -- November 8, 2006 -- Voters in states across the country approved ballot initiatives yesterday that will decrease smoking rates and protect Americans from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action NetworkSM (ACS CAN) and other public health groups worked to pass tobacco control initiatives in seven states yesterday – those in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Ohio and South Dakota were approved, while those in California and Missouri appear to have fallen short. The tobacco industry spent upwards of $100 million opposing these initiatives.
“Voters nationwide raised their collective voice in support of protecting the public from the deadly effects of tobacco use,” said John R. Seffrin, Ph.D., chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society and its sister advocacy organization, ACS CAN. “Each year, smoking kills more people than alcohol, illegal drugs, murder, suicide, accidents and AIDS combined. Passing strong smoke-free laws, raising tobacco taxes, and funding prevention programs are the three most effective ways to reduce smoking rates and protect nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke.”
“Voters are smarter than the tobacco industry gives them credit for,” said Daniel E. Smith, ACS CAN’s national vice president of government relations. “Despite the industry’s deceitful marketing and campaign tactics, the public showed strong support for protecting workers, children and others with smoke-free policies and increased tobacco excise taxes that fund proven programs to help people quit and deter many others from ever starting to smoke.”
Statewide smoke-free laws passed in Arizona, Nevada and Ohio in spite of competing measures on the ballot that were backed by well-financed smoke-free opponents. In Arizona, voters approved Proposition 201 to make all workplaces, including bars and restaurants, smoke-free. Tobacco giant RJ Reynolds backed Proposition 206, dubbed the “Arizona Non-Smoker Protection Act,” which would have allowed smoking in many restaurants and other workplaces, provided for no enforcement, rolled back existing local smoke-free laws and prevented local governments from passing smoke-free laws in the future. The measure was defeated.
Nevada passed Question 5, the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, which prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars that serve food, grocery stores, convenience stores, shopping malls and other retail establishments. Question 4, which was backed by the Slot Route Operators and the Petroleum and Convenience Store Association and had the blessing of the tobacco industry, was known by the misleading name of “Responsibly Protect Nevadans From Secondhand Smoke.” The initiative, which failed, claimed to restrict smoking when in fact it would have allowed smoking in many restaurants and other workplaces, including certain child care facilities, school buildings and grocery stores.
A new law called SmokeFree Ohio, approved yesterday, will make all workplaces in that state, including restaurants and bars, smoke-free. RJ Reynolds, the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association and other special interests spent millions of dollars in a failed effort to pass a measure dubbed “Smoke Less Ohio,” which claimed to restrict smoking but would have amended the Ohio Constitution to allow smoking in many restaurants and other workplaces, rolled back existing laws in 21 Ohio cities and prevented local governments from passing smoke-free laws in the future.
Florida was the first state with a ballot initiative to require the state legislature to annually fund a comprehensive statewide tobacco prevention program using tobacco settlement money. The initiative, which passed with more than 60 percent of the vote, is imperative to funding programs that have been proven to dramatically decrease youth smoking rates.
Voters in Arizona and South Dakota approved tobacco excise tax increases yesterday. Arizona raised its cigarette tax by 80 cents, to $1.98 per pack. The revenue will be used to fund early childhood development programs. South Dakota’s voters approved a tobacco tax increase of $1.00, to $1.53 per pack. The measure, which passed with 61 percent of the vote, will fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs and other health initiatives such as disease prevention and medical research.
California voters considered a bold measure to raise the cigarette tax by $2.60, to $3.47 per pack, which would have been the highest in the country. Despite the tobacco industry’s $65 million effort to oppose the increase, the measure garnered nearly 48 percent of the vote. A Missouri initiative to raise the cigarette tax by 80 cents, to a total of 97 cents per pack, also received 48 percent of the vote, according to the latest figures on the Web site of the Missouri Secretary of State.
“Initiatives to protect public health scored big wins this year, and even in states where public health measures fell short in the face of enormous spending by the tobacco industry, voters showed strong support for them,” Smith said. “Our battle against Big Tobacco is a case of David versus Goliath. But we are emboldened by the results in every state yesterday, and we will continue our efforts to add to the number of states and communities that have enacted strong tobacco control policies that protect public health.”
Support for smoke-free laws and higher tobacco excise taxes has risen sharply in recent years. Until 2002, California and Utah were the only states with smoke-free laws. Just four years later, 17 states and more than 2,300 communities are enjoying smoke-free laws. Hawaii will become the 18th state to go smoke-free on Nov. 16, the 30th anniversary of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout.
In the last four years, 42 states have raised the tax on cigarettes, bringing the average tax to 96 cents per pack. Studies have shown that for every 10 percent rise in cigarette prices, youth smoking rates decline by seven percent and adult smoking rates fall by four percent.
Tobacco is the most preventable cause of premature illness and death in the United States, and smoking accounts for at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths. Each year, secondhand smoke is estimated to cause 35,000 to 45,000 deaths from heart disease and 3,000 more deaths from lung cancer among nonsmokers in this country. The U.S. Surgeon General’s report on secondhand smoke, issued earlier this year, concluded that there is no level of safe exposure to secondhand smoke. According to the report, an estimated 126 million children and adults are exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes and workplaces.
The myth that smoke-free laws are bad for restaurant and bar businesses has been proven false. Several studies from areas that have already gone smoke-free show that these laws protect the public health and encourage smokers to quit without threatening job security and economic livelihood.
ACS CAN is the nonprofit, nonpartisan sister advocacy organization of the American Cancer Society. ACS CAN is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major public health problem through voter education and issue campaigns aimed at influencing candidates and lawmakers to support laws and policies that will help people fight cancer. ACS CAN does not endorse candidates and is not a political action committee (PAC). For more information, visit www.fightcancer.org.
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