Tobacco industry blowing smoke |

Tobacco industry blowing smoke

Jason Luchtefeld, dmd, co-chairperson, SmokeFree Summit

For years, tobacco companies have been searching for ways to ward off the oncoming wave of opposition to smoke-filled airports, planes, buses, government buildings and, finally, workplaces. Quoting a 1992 internal Phillip Morris document, “Total prohibition of smoking in the workplace strongly affects industry volume. Smokers facing these restrictions consume 11 to 15 percent less than average and the quit rate is 84 percent higher than average.”

This important fact, along with new statistics that show youth initiation of tobacco drops significantly following the passage of a smoke-free ordinance in a town, city or state, provides strong support for legislation from the smoking and nonsmoking communities alike.

In order to protect their bottom line, the tobacco companies conceived a plan to lobby for support through restaurant associations across the nation, using front groups with environmental names like the Colorado Indoor Air Coalition. A 1995 document from Philip Morris stated, “We are reliant on the (hospitality) industry to be our front fighting on this issue.”

This Colorado group, funded by tobacco money, has spent years working hand-in-hand with our state restaurant association to assist in distributing unverified arguments against smoke-free workplaces in order to maintain the future of tobacco use.

The most widely misunderstood claim by restaurant associations is the assertion that ventilation systems eliminate the risk from secondhand smoke. Scientific reports abound with evidence that ventilation systems are not the answer to healthy workplaces. The truth is that current ventilation systems remove visible smoke and some odor. However, the heavy carcinogens found in secondhand smoke are unequivocally not eliminated from the environment. The manufacturers of ventilation systems do not stand by health claims against secondhand smoke. Consequently, restaurants providing a place for smokers and nonsmokers alike (but only one ventilation system) are circulating secondhand smoke throughout the entire restaurant.

Don’t believe the hype

Restaurateurs have been led to believe that smoke-free legislation will hurt. They have been told it will undermine their competitive advantage, drastically affect tourism in our county, produce economic hardship in an economy already hit by worldwide tragedy and it will require added law enforcement personnel. The truth is that study after study, not commissioned by the tobacco companies, along with recent history from smoke-free communities, refutes every one of these arguments.

In city after city, town after town, small and large businesses are booming, and some even find business has prospered. We are just beginning to get sales tax data from cities and states that enacted smoke-free legislation two or more years ago. According to California state health officials, newly released figures show restaurants and bars are doing a healthy business, as well as modeling a healthy business. Sales tax receipts rose to $35 million in 2000, up from $25 million in 1995. In our own backyard, tourism continues to flourish in Snowmass Village, where the town council recently approved a smoke-free ordinance based upon the request of restaurant and bar owners and managers. The same can be said for Boulder, Ottawa, Utah, Vermont and many more.

Pre-emption precludes local control

Because these figures are recent, this news flies in the face of comments that smoke-free ordinances will compound the already dismal picture created by the national economic downturn and fear of terror attacks. There is no basis for concern over additional enforcement procedures and staff to monitor compliance. Smoke-free workplaces are self-enforced through continued education and cooperation between citizens who understand the health ramifications, and restaurant owners.

Finally, the premise that statewide smoking bans will be enacted in Colorado through pre-emption is a common view in our local restaurant associations and town councils. The truth is that pre-emption ensures local governments lose the ability to provide local control and shows total disregard for the will of the people. A Tobacco Institute memo states, “Industry leaders have recognized that state laws which pre-empt local anti-tobacco ordinances are the most effective means to counter local challenges.” And, the Colorado Restaurant Association’s proposed solution is to support a “statewide regulation,” not a statewide ban. Translated, this means the Colorado Restaurant Association supports providing smoking and nonsmoking sections in restaurants. This can also be interpreted to mean that a restaurant worker’s health is more important than a bar worker’s health.

Increasingly, the citizens of Summit County are voicing their concerns for their own health and the health of restaurant and bar workers. Many restaurant owners (five new policy changes since May) have looked past the dire consequences suggested by tobacco company officials, their front groups and state restaurant associations, and have already gone smoke-free. These Summit County restaurateurs (and their employees) have discovered that it wasn’t nearly as bad as were led to believe.

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