MONTGOMERY, AL - The House Government Operations Committee passed SB541, legislation aimed to be a smoke-free bill. However, the legislation leaves workers in bars and most other Alabama workplaces vulnerable to the dangers of secondhand smoke. Although the bill would prohibit smoking in all restaurants, it does not go far enough to protect the health of all workers.
The American Cancer Society and its advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), have been working for years to make Alabama smoke-free. The last serious attempt to pass a comprehensive state-wide law was in 2008.
"This is a bill of good intentions, but we shouldn't pick and choose which workers are going to be protected by smoke-free air and which workers are not," said Ginny Campbell, the Society's government relations director in Alabama.
Currently 23 states have laws making all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, smoke-free. Of those, four states are awaiting enactment.
Any smoke-free law should by design be comprehensive, meaning all workplaces, restaurants and bars become smoke-free. When states pass less than comprehensive legislation, it takes an average of 17 years to come back and strengthen the law.
"This is a case where something is not better than nothing," Campbell said. "It's taken us 12 years to get to this point and we're still leaving many of our state's workers unprotected from secondhand smoke. Knowing the challenges we've faced to pass a smoke-free law in Alabama, we should strive to pass the strongest law possible and protect every worker from secondhand smoke."
Secondhand smoke is a major health hazard, proven to cause lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema. With 4,000 chemicals and more than 60 carcinogens – including arsenic and polonium – secondhand smoke causes cancer, heart, and lung disease and kills more than 50,000 nonsmoking Americans each year, including 3,000 deaths from lung cancer.
Smoke-free laws save lives. Strong smoke-free laws that include all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, are the only effective way to protect all workers and the public from the health hazards of secondhand smoke. Smoke-free workplaces and public places also make it easier for smokers to quit and discourage kids from picking up this deadly habit. For example, after Colorado's smoke-free law went into effect in 2006, calls to the state's tobacco cessation Quitline increased by 1,400 percent in the month after implementation and by almost 600 percent after two months.
Legislation that is less than comprehensive leaves too many workers vulnerable to the dangers of secondhand smoke.
The use of tobacco products remains the nation's number one cause of preventable death, killing more than 400,000 Americans each year and costing $193 billion annually in medical costs and lost productivity.
The American Cancer Society combines an unyielding passion with nearly a century of experience to save lives and end suffering from cancer. As a global grassroots force of more than three million volunteers, we fight for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. We save lives by helping people stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early; helping people get well by being there for them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures through investment in groundbreaking discovery; and by fighting back by rallying lawmakers to pass laws to defeat cancer and by rallying communities worldwide to join the fight. As the nation's largest non-governmental investor in cancer research, contributing nearly $3.4 billion, we turn what we know about cancer into what we do. As a result, more than 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year. To learn more about us or to get help, call us any time, day or night, at 1-800-227-2345 or visit cancer.org.