Thursday, May 12, 2005

Georgia Smokefree Air Act of 2005 Signed into Law: Misperceptions Abound

The Georgia Smokefree Air Act of 2005 was signed by Governor Sonny Perdue Tuesday, and will become effective on July 1. The bill has been described in the media as a widespread "smoking ban" that leaves only a "handful" of public places where smoking will still be allowed. It has also been described as a "public health measure," and as a great "success" for the state of Georgia.

The Rest of the Story

First, it is important to be clear about what the Georgia law does and does not do. It does not ban smoking in all bars and restaurants. It does not ban smoking in all restaurants. It does not ban smoking in all restaurants at which minors are allowed.

What it does is restrict smoking in restaurants at which minors are allowed to enclosed, separately ventilated areas of any size, in which employees work, with no restrictions on smoking in adult-only restaurants or bars. As I have documented, the levels of secondhand smoke in the newly-created separately ventilated smoking areas are going to be extremely high and are likely to cause severe, adverse health effects for the unfortunate restaurant workers who are forced to work in such areas (see: Siegel M, Husten C, Merritt R, Giovino G, Eriksen M: The health effects of separately ventilated smoking lounges on smokers: Is this an appropriate public health policy? Tobacco Control 1995; 4:22-29).

So this is hardly a widespread smoking ban and it hardly leaves just a "handful" of public places where people can smoke.

Second, while the original bill introduced into the legislature was a public health measure, I don't view this highly contrived patchwork of legislation that guarantees protection to not a single worker in the state of Georgia to be a public health measure.

First of all, it is not designed to protect people from secondhand smoke. It specifically chooses to protect only youths from secondhand smoke and to exclude adults from such protection. I don't see any public health rationale behind an approach that is based on a premise that carcinogens are very bad for kids but acceptable for adults.

Second of all, it is not designed to protect workers from secondhand smoke, just patrons. But patrons can choose to eat at a smoke-free restaurant if they want. We don't really need the legislature to intervene to create more smoke-free choices for customers. If we need anything, it is for the legislature to intervene to ensure a smoke-free working environment for all employees. I simply don't see a strong public health rationale behind an approach that is based on a premise that carcinogens are very bad for customers, but acceptable for workers.

Finally, I don't see this bill as a "success." If anything, I'm afraid it may hurt long-term efforts to promote and ensure a safe working environment for citizens in Georgia and elsewhere by framing the problem of secondhand smoke exposure in two unfortunate ways:

1) The bill clearly frames secondhand smoke as a problem of youths, but not adults. The whole focus on restricting smoking only insofar as to protect youths from being exposed is based not on any defensible public health rationale, but more on some sort of political feasibility rationale. I think it does damage, because it sends the message that secondhand smoke exposure is only a problem insofar as it affects youths. The very message that is sends condones and institutionalizes adult exposure to carcinogens as an acceptable way of life.

2) The bill clearly frames secondhand smoke as a problem of customers, but not workers. The whole focus on restricting smoking only insofar as to protect customers from being exposed is based not on any defensible public health rationale, but also on some sort of political feasibility criterion. In fact, it is the workers who need the protection the most - not the customers. While the customers may be present for a couple of hours at a time, workers are likely there for 40 or more hours per week.

I am seriously concerned about how the framing of this legislation is going to affect efforts in other states. By creating this youth-only focus, I'm afraid the Georgia experience is going to give legislators in other states a nice political out that they may not have previously had. If this approach spreads beyond the Peach State, it will be a public health disaster. First, because lots of opportunities to provide real, guaranteed protection for all citizens - adults and kids alike - and for employees as well as patrons will go down the wayside. Second, because this inconsistent and largely unjustified public health approach makes public health practitioners everywhere look as if we do not really stand for any solid principles, but are just trying to interfere with people smoking as much as possible.

That's not what I'm in this for. I'm in this to try to save lives and reduce morbidity and suffering. And taken as a whole, I do not think Georgia's Smokefree Air Act of 2005 will do either.


wtfBBQ Podcast said...

I am about to go into a tirade on this law, and I'm pretty sure we don't see eye to eye.

I'm a "social smoker." Well no, I WAS, now I'm a "light smoker." Anywhere from 2-5 cigarettes a day, depending on how poorly my dissertation is going. I do some of my smoking at the Vortex Bar & Grill in Midtown.

Next month, the undergrads I torture won't be able to go to the Vortex for a tasty burger, because it's baaaaaaaad for them to breathe that naughty second-hand smoke. The Vortex is siding with us smokers over clean air, and going 21+ at all times. But you know who still gets to breathe my second-hand smoke? Cute little Lizzie and Katie, 19 and 20 years old, who will for 8 hour shifts suck down my cancerous fumes, but as soon as they're done, they can stay and have a snack and chat, they have to LEAVE. Because it's DANGEROUS for them to be there.

You know what they're going to do as soon as they leave? LIGHT A F'ING CIGARETTE! Because they, as citizens over 18 years old, are legally allowed to smoke.

ARE YOU FOLLOWING ME? Already, this is the stupidest law in the history of stupid laws.

Also, this law explicity cites the "need to breathe smokefree air" as having priority over the desire to smoke. We're protecting the rights of the ... the ... dorky, I don't know. The STUPID. Who in the sweet name of Jesus ever asked any of these clean air namby-pambies to come into the Vortex in the first place? This is a bar beset with nudie pictures on the wall, a jukebox full of cusswords, and some real foul-mouthed bartenders. If you come in there, you're clearly lookin' for trouble. And if you're there to eat...holy mother of Christ, have you LOOKED at the MENU? 85% of the crap they serve is instant heart disease. If you're there, you are NOT interested in healthy living. If you bring a juvenile there as a parent, you are RETARDED AND SHOULD BE STERILIZED.

This law does nothing to help anyone. It only takes away business from a tavern that would like to sell artery-clogging burgers to a bunch of 18-20 year olds who are LEGALLY ALLOWED TO BUY CIGARETTES and have all of their wits about them when CHOOSING to walk into their doors. No one is forcing anyone into the Vortex.

Like Eddie Izzard said, "Soon, there'll be no drinking and no talking" [in bars.]

Anonymous said...

I'm happy as hell that this law was passed. Cigarette smoke smells like #@%&. I'm 46 yrs old and a non-smoker. Image if you will a car running in an enclosed garage and you're locked in. You will die. I've had to endure second hand smoke all my life. Smoking is a nasty habit even if you smoke only one. I'm tired of seeing 70 year old ladies at bingo puffing away. It doesn't set a good example for our young people. I loss my aunt a year ago to lung cancer due to her smoking. She smoked up to her dying day. I will tell all this is not an attractive or healthy habit. Stop smoking the life you safe maybe your own or someone else. THANK YOU GOVT PURDUE.

Cantiloper said...

Michael, I agree with you and disagree with you on this blog entry.

I will agree that this law does not guarantee workers safe air to breathe. But I would hold that neither does any other smoking ban law. All smoking bans do is guarantee that the workers will not be breathing even a wisp of tobacco smoke.

There are many, many, MANY toxins and threats in the air. In any *decent* modern business where smoking is allowed there will be a level of ventilation/filtration sufficient to make the place generally comfortable for the bulk of nonsmokers. That ventilation/filtration will serve to swoosh out or capture large amounts of radon, asbestos fibers, cooking fumes, black mold spores, influenze and bird flu germs, and Dear Deceased Aunt Petunia's dead skin cells that are still floating around in microscopic amounts from when she last ate there and which settle in various amounts upon your tasty dead cow burger.

Simply passing a law banning smoking may reduce certain individual "pollutants" in the air of a restaurant or bar, but at the same time the level of other, and potentially more dangerous pollutants may increase as the business reduces its use of ventilation/filtration as an economy measure.

One example you may have seen me mention before is simply volatile Class A Carcinogenic ethyl alcohol fumes: One full gram per martini per hour... two thousand times the amount of true Class A Carcinogens put out by the average cigarette. A poorly ventilated smoke-free bar will obviously have a far higher concentration of this carcinogen than a well-ventilated smoking bar.

Is it a threat? No one knows: there's no big money lobby pouring research money into it and the epidemiological studies would be a nightmare to design. Do I believe it's a threat. No... I think it's nonsense. But then I also think the general "threat" from secondary smoke in well-ventilated businesses is nonsense.

We should return to passing laws regulating hidden health dangers rather than human behaviors that people are willing or even happy to accept in certain places.

No one is forced to work in a smoking bar if they don't want to... we do not exist in an era of "company towns" anymore. Whatever minute threat to health there might possibly be from choosing to work in a well ventilated smoking environment is surely less than the threat imposed upon all of us when we allow or even encourage government to regulate us at these levels.

Just my opinion... but hey, *I* like it.

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"