My Turn: Clean indoor air is a right of all people

Posted: Friday, September 07, 2001

The City and Borough of Juneau must choose whether to join the hundreds of communities from around the country that protect the majority of their citizens from the poisons emitted from burning cigarettes. Second-hand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke, is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States with tobacco use being the first. The fact is, the removal of secondhand smoke from all public places will save thousands of lives and millions of dollars in Alaska alone. Bethel and Anchorage already boast smoke-free laws. Doesn't Juneau deserve the same protection of its citizens, adults and children alike?

According to factual information gathered by independent professional economic and environmental impact evaluators, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Surgeon General, the California Environmental Protection Agency, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, Inc., and the thousands of researchers, medical doctors, respiratory therapists and nurses who study and work with this issue every day, there is conclusive evidence that prohibiting smoking in the workplace improves the health and well-being of employees and patrons, reduces the operation and maintenance costs associated with running a business and does not negatively affect the profits or the patronage of businesses including hotels, bars and restaurants.

In fact, smoke-free workplaces encourage individuals to reduce and even quit smoking, a goal that is shared by half or more of all smokers at any given time. Not surprisingly, the only organization that stands to lose from a law that prohibits smoking cigarettes in public indoor places is the tobacco industry.

The rhetoric they provide to local business come in three forms. First, that business stand to lose up to 30 percent of their profits if clean indoor is required. Second, that ventilation systems will protect patrons and workers from secondhand smoke. Third, that people's health is not an important issue to worry about and people (excluding, of course, employees, children and unsuspecting patrons) should have the right to choose whether to expose themselves to toxic waste.

All three of these claims are absolutely false.

All scientific studies concur that business will not be negatively affected by clean indoor air laws. American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers Inc. and the National Occupational Safety and Health have concluded that even the best ventilation systems cannot feasibly protect people from secondhand smoke and, in fact, that regulating the use of public space as is done with other comparable biohazards such as asbestos and lead paint to protect citizens is not an infringement of anybody's rights but in fact a strengthening of them (tobacco smoke is classified as a Class A carcinogen).

The fact is, the majority of smokers are as concerned about secondhand smoke as nonsmokers and support clean indoor air. The Juneau business community and all of Juneau's citizens have nothing to lose from smoke-free air in all public places. The fact is, the city of Juneau and the state of Alaska endure a lot of pain, suffering and preventable deaths such as sudden infant deaths, asthma, heart attacks, lung cancer and emphysema that are directly related to exposure to secondhand smoke. Although many problems are very difficult to address, this choice is not. Passing a low that protects our community by prohibiting smoking in indoor public places, including restaurants, can be accomplished very effectively by elected officials. Hundreds of communities from around the country, including Bethel and Anchorage, have demonstrated that these laws are obeyed and they work. The facts are clear that clean indoor air is the right of all people and it is the right thing to do for everyone. For more specific information on the economic and health-related information and research call 463-5845.


Mary Becker is a member of the Juneau Tobacco Prevention Network.

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