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Protecting the Public from Exposure to Secondhand Smoke

March 5, 2007: Reducing Exposure to Secondhand Smoke

Cynthia Hallett, M.P.H., Executive Director, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights

Ms. Hallett began by providing a brief history of the nonsmokers' rights movement, beginning in the early 1970s with local citizens coming together to introduce local ordinances proposing smoking sections in restaurants. Over the next decade, the movement went from the promotion of nonsmoking sections to clean indoor air policies which allowed for separately enclosed and separately ventilated rooms. It was not until 2000 that greater public demand and stronger scientific evidence of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke led the movement to the promotion of 100% smoke-free indoor environments. Ms. Hallett showed the Committee a graph indicating that in 2007 approximately 50% of the population is covered by smoke-free restaurant laws, 36% by smoke-free workplace laws, and 38% by restrictions on smoking in bars.

Citing statements from the 2006 Surgeon General's Report, Ms. Hallett emphasized that smoke-free workplaces are the only effective way to ensure that secondhand smoke exposure doesn't happen in the workplace. Ventilation, cleaning the air and/or smoking sections are not effective and she cited the recent policy statement adopted by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) stating that ventilation cannot eliminate all the health risks caused by secondhand smoke.

Ms. Hallett described several reasons for the controversy surrounding smoke-free air including how much these laws affect the tobacco industry's bottom line due to an increased number of people who quit or cut down on smoking. One of the tactics that the industry uses to impede the passage of these laws is to try to convince business owners that smoke-free regulations will reduce restaurant and bar revenues. However, the evidence is mounting to support that smoke-free air is in fact good for business and restaurant associations and chambers of commerce are increasingly supporting smoke-free air laws for this reason. Other tactics the industry uses to oppose the passage of these laws are legal challenges, referenda, public relations blitzes, and financial contributions to allied parties. The industry also tries to push for preemptive legislation in state legislatures which prevents local communities from passing laws that are stronger than state laws.

One of the most successful approaches to passing smoke-free laws is to start at the local level and then progress to a statewide law. The reason for this greater success is that the public gets educated and buys-in which can then lead to a build-up of community support. Ms. Hallett provided a few state examples where a large number of communities had passed laws and in the case of Illinois, repealed preemption and then passed 36 local laws.

In closing her remarks, Ms. Hallett briefly touched on the reasons that a federal regulation concerning secondhand smoke is not something she supports. The reasons for this include: the low likelihood of getting a strong 100% smoke-free regulation given the powerful tobacco industry lobby; the fact that federal rules would preempt future state and local laws and could in fact supersede existing strong laws; and finally the fact that the greatest successes have always been at the local level given the challenges in implementing and enforcing such laws on a statewide or federal level.

Although over one half of the U.S. population is currently protect by a local or state law with smoke-free provisions, there remains much work to be done. Increasing the public's awareness of the health effects of secondhand smoke must continue and as well as promoting the adoption of laws at the local and state level, particularly in the South and mid-West which currently lack smokefree protections. Finally, it is imperative that smoke-free protections continue to expand to include all workplaces including casinos and private clubs.

Following Ms. Hallett's remarks, RADM Moritsugu introduced the next speaker.

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