By William V. Corr Executive Director, Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund
WASHINGTON - The Maryland Legislature today delivered a historic victory for health and the public's right to breathe clean air by passing legislation (SB 91 & HB 359) to make all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, smoke-free. Governor Martin O'Malley has said he will sign the legislation into law.
Maryland becomes the 18th state to pass a smoke-free law that includes restaurants and bars. Maryland's law adds to the growing momentum across the country and around the world to protect all workers and the public from the serious health hazards of secondhand smoke.
Maryland joins 17 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, that have passed strong smoke-free laws that include restaurants and bars. The states are Arizona (effective May 1), California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico (effective June 15), New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington (the Montana and Utah laws extend to bars in 2009). Four other states - Florida, Idaho, Louisiana and Nevada - have smoke-free laws that exempt stand-alone bars. A growing number of countries have also passed nationwide smoke-free laws, including Bermuda, Bhutan, England (effective July 1, 2007), France (effective 2008), Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Scotland, Sweden and Uruguay.
Advocates say the need for protection from secondhand smoke in all workplaces and public places has never been clearer. In issuing a groundbreaking report on secondhand smoke in June 2006, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona stated, "The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard that causes premature death and disease in children and nonsmoking adults."
Secondhand smoke contains more than 4000 chemicals, including at least 69 carcinogens. The Surgeon General found that secondhand smoke is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome. The Surgeon General also found that secondhand smoke is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the United States each year, there is no safe level of exposure, and only smoke-free laws provide effective protection from secondhand smoke.
Studies also suggest that smoke-free laws protect health without harming business. The U.S. Surgeon General concluded, "Evidence from peer-reviewed studies shows that smoke-free policies and regulations do not have an adverse impact on the hospitality industry."