GLAA testifies in favor of smokefree workplace legislation
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GLAA testifies in favor of smokefree workplace legislation

Fighting for Equal Rights Since 1971
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013

Testimony on

“Smoke-Free Restaurant, Tavern, and Nightclub Incentive Amendment Act of 2005,” Bill 16-294,

“Smoke-Free Workplaces Act of 2005,” Bill 16-187, and

“Occupational Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2005,” Bill 16-193.

Delivered before the Committee on Public Works and the Environment

June 14, 2005

Good morning, Chairman Schwartz, Councilmembers and fellow citizens.

My name is Bob Summersgill. I am the treasurer of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C. (GLAA), the oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization in the country. I am also on the Steering Committee of Smokefree DC, but I am not speaking for them.

GLAA supports legislation creating 100% smokefree workplaces in the District of Columbia. Bill 16-187 accomplishes this goal. Bills 16-294 and 16-193 fail to do so. We appreciate Councilmembers Brown, Fenty, Gray, Mendelson, and Patterson for introducing the “Smoke-Free Workplaces Act of 2005,” Bill 16-187. The exemptions in Bill 16-193 fail to protect all workers by exempting, among other things, adult businesses. GLAA has long been D.C.’s leading advocate for adult businesses, but we know of no reason for people who work in these establishments, as well as the customers, to suffer the ill effects of secondhand smoke when all others are able to breathe clean air.

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, the 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 or stay away from almost all bars and restaurants in the District. 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, 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.”

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 pollute 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 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.

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