GLAA testifies in favor of anti-smoking legislation
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GLAA testifies in favor of anti-smoking legislation


GAY AND LESBIAN ACTIVISTS ALLIANCE OF WASHINGTON
Fighting for Equal Rights Since 1971
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013

Testimony for the record on

“Department of Health Functions Amendment Act of 2005,” Bill 16-293,

Delivered to the Committee on Health

September 22, 2005


Dear Chairman Catania:

In the interest of time and to avoid another marathon hearing, please accept this as testimony for the record on the "Department of Health Functions Amendment Act of 2005," B16-293 by the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C. (GLAA), the oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization in the country.

GLAA supports legislation creating 100% smokefree workplaces in the District of Columbia. Bill 16-293 accomplishes this goal. We appreciate Councilmembers, Ambrose, Brown, Fenty, Gray, Mendelson, and Patterson for introducing the bill, and Councilmembers Catania and Evans for co-sponsoring it.

Indoor smoking needs to be treated as the serious health hazard that it is. Secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, more than 69 of which are known or suspected to cause cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates that secondhand smoke is responsible for the early deaths of up to 65,000 Americans annually. In addition to weakening the immune system, it causes heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, lung cancer and many other illnesses. It affects smokers and non-smokers alike. A recent study found that non-smokers experience 80-90% of the effects of tobacco from secondhand smoke.

In bars and restaurants where smoking is permitted, employees and the customers they serve breathe benzene, carbon monoxide, ammonia, formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, and hydrogen cyanide.

Numerous recent studies have documented the detrimental impacts of secondhand smoke on people with HIV/AIDS. Secondhand smoke suppresses the immune system and worsens symptoms among those who are already immuno-compromised, creating enhanced susceptibility to bacterial and viral infections. Specifically, smoke contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are potent immunosuppressants. PAHs stifle the antibody responses, which are designed to protect against infections.

People with HIV/AIDS must decide whether to compromise their health, and accelerate the progression of the disease, or stay away from almost all bars and restaurants in the District. Although D.C. has sub-Saharan rates of HIV infections, the highest in the United States, only one small tavern, and only one nightclub are smokefree.

Asking people to step outside to smoke—as they currently do in theaters and most offices—is a simple way of minimizing the harm of tobacco smoke that also opens up thousands of venues currently closed to people with HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, asthma, cancer, heart disease, and numerous other ailments.

The legislation is not radical. Nine states—Vermont, California, Delaware, New York, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Montana—have passed 100% smokefree workplace legislation. More are considering it. Over a thousand cities and towns across the country have passed similar legislation. Not one jurisdiction reports an adverse economic impact. In fact failure to pass a 100% smoke-free workplace bill may cause economic harm to our hospitality industry. As people have become accustomed to clean air in their own cities and states, they are finding D.C.’s filthy indoor air repellent. A number of health organizations are planning to only hold their conferences in cities with 100% smokefree workplaces.

Even Philip Morris agrees with the idea. According to their website, “We also believe that the conclusions of public health officials concerning environmental tobacco smoke are sufficient to warrant measures that regulate smoking in public places.” http://www.philipmorrisusa.com/en/health_issues/secondhand_smoke.asp

A number of people have claimed a libertarian view that they have a right to smoke anywhere they choose; however libertarians are very clear that individual liberty must be curtailed when it negatively impacts someone else. The old libertarian adage—that “the right to swing your fist stops just before the tip of my nose”—is particularly apt in this case. Smoke does not stop before the tip of the nose, but is inhaled by everyone nearby. To assert a right to poison the air in an enclosed place is not a libertarian ideal, but rather antisocial. A person has no more right to put lead, arsenic, and cyanide into someone's air, than they do to put those same poisons into someone's drink. Their rights to poison and kill themselves are not questioned by 100% smokefree workplace legislation.

We hope that you protect people in the District from being harmed by smokers and remove the barriers that people with health problems or pregnancy have to accessing the full range of public accommodations in the District by passing a bill requiring 100% smokefree workplaces in the District of Columbia.

Thank you. I am available to answer any questions that you may have.


Sincerely,

Bob Summersgill
Treasurer

cc: Committee on Health


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