HEALTH GROUPS APPLAUD ATLANTA CITY COUNCIL FOR INTRODUCING ORDINANCE THAT PROTECTS EVERYONE’S RIGHT TO BREATHE CLEAN AIR AT WORK
The Smokefree Atlanta Coalition – a broad-based group of public health organizations – lauded the Atlanta City Council for introducing an ordinance that will protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air in workplaces across the city. When enacted, the proposed comprehensive smoke-free ordinance will protect all residents, workers, and patrons from the dangers of secondhand smoke.
Councilmember Matt Westmoreland (Post 2 At Large) is the lead sponsor of the measure, and numerous other members have expressed support for the ordinance. Currently, Atlanta is one of the largest cities in the United States without an ordinance that protects its citizens and tourists from the more than 7,000 chemicals found in secondhand smoke. The proposed ordinance will make all workplaces, restaurants, and bars – as well as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – entirely smoke-free.
“Everyone in Atlanta deserves the right to breathe clean air,” said Onjewel Smith, chair of the Smokefree Atlanta Coalition and a consultant for Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. “Providing comprehensive smoke-free protections for every worker in Atlanta is the just and equitable thing to do. No one should be forced to choose between their health and a paycheck. A healthy workplace should not be a privilege given only to some.”
Smokefree Atlanta is a broad coalition spearheading the effort to protect everyone who lives, works and plays in Atlanta from the dangers of secondhand smoke. The group comprises American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and a host of other local partners.
“A great city like Atlanta deserves smoke-free workplaces and an airport that does not put its workers and travelers at risk,” said Andy Freeman, Georgia’s government relations director for ACS CAN. “Nearly 18,000 people in Georgia will lose their cancer battles this year and about one-third of those deaths will be tobacco related. By passing this smoke-free ordinance, the city council can take a big step forward in helping to reduce this number. “
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 100 percent smoke-free workplace policies are the only way to fully protect all workers from the dangers of exposure to secondhand smoke. The science is clear: there is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure and even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can be harmful to health. Secondhand smoke remains an occupational hazard for many workers including restaurant, bar, and hotel employees. The dangers are clear as well.
- Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, hundreds of them toxic and about 70 cancer-causing.
- Every year in the United States, secondhand smoke causes nearly 42,000 deaths, including nearly 34,000 from coronary heart disease and more than 7,300 from lung cancer among nonsmoking adults.
- Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at work increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 20 percent to 30 percent.
“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Georgians – and secondhand smoke increases the risk of nonsmokers developing heart disease by 25 percent to 30 percent,” said Dr. Michael Balk, immediate past president and member of the Metro Atlanta American Heart Association’s Advisory Board. “We applaud Atlanta’s decision to lead in the effort to reduce these numbers. While exposure has decreased over time, more than 20 percent of nonsmoking adults in the United States are still exposed. Evidence suggests passing comprehensive smoke-free laws could reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke hospitalizations by 15 percent and 16 percent, respectively.”
The statewide Georgia Smoke-free Air Act of 2005 includes myriad exemptions – allowing smoking in bars and restaurants that do not employ people under the age of 18 or allow them to enter, authorizing smoking rooms and smoking areas in workplaces with ventilation systems, and sanctioning smoking rooms at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Even though counties and municipalities may pass stronger local smoke-free laws, more than a decade after implementation of the state law, many workers and patrons – especially those in bars, clubs, and adult entertainment establishments – remain unprotected. This is the case for many people working in Atlanta.
More than 80 percent of the largest U.S. airports are smoke-free, and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the only facility among the top five busiest airports in the United States that allows smoking on its premises.
An August 2017 poll of likely 2018 Atlanta voters shows wide and deep support throughout the city for a comprehensive smoke-free law that would prohibit smoking inside most public places, including workplaces, public buildings, offices, restaurants, bars, and the Atlanta airport.
- Three-quarters of voters overall (76 percent) favor a law that prohibits smoking inside most public places, including two-thirds of voters who strongly favor the proposed law (67 percent).
- Voters’ undeniably see secondhand smoke as a health hazard. An overwhelming 90 percentof voters say it is a serious or moderate health hazard, including three-quarters of voters (75 percent) who say it is a serious health hazard.
“Atlanta is one of the last major cities in the United States that has not taken the necessary steps to improve public health by protecting residents, workers, and visitors from exposure to secondhand smoke,” said June Deen, senior director of advocacy for the American Lung Association. “Eighty percent of the busiest airports in the United States are completely smoke-free indoors but not Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. We commend Councilmember Westmoreland for bringing this ordinance forward.”
The coalition notes that many low-wage, service, and hospitality workers throughout Atlanta are still exposed to secondhand smoke at work putting them at higher risk for heart disease, lung cancer, and other serious diseases. Service employees, along with musicians and entertainers, breathe more secondhand smoke while at work than any other type of employee, and can suffer from some of the same illnesses as smokers. Blue-collar employees are less likely than white-collar indoor workers to be covered by smoke-free polices.
Councilmember Westmoreland’s proposal will include e-cigarettes, which the coalition strongly supports. The aerosol from e-cigarettes can contain harmful chemicals including nicotine, ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs; flavoring such diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease; volatile organic compounds such as benzene, which is found in car exhaust; and heavy metals, such as nickel, tin and lead. Including e-cigarettes in smoke-free laws is necessary to protect health and simplify implementation.
For more information on the Smokefree Atlanta campaign, visit smokefreeatl.org.