Thursday, March 02, 2006

Colorado Health Advocates Standing Up for Principles in Support of Smoke-Free Workplace Legislation

In what seems to be an all-too rare display of actually standing up for some basic principles and taking a consistent position on a public health policy issue for anti-smoking groups, tobacco control groups in Colorado appear to be emphasizing to the legislature that if secondhand smoke is a severe occupational health hazard, then all workers need to be protected, even if they work in casinos or bars.

According to an Associated Press article, supporters of a proposed ban on smoking in Colorado workplaces are not falling for the trap of creating an inconsistency in their reasoning and justification for a smoke-free workplace policy by advocating for legislation that creates an unlevel playing field for businesses and requires certain workers to be exposed while others are protected. The advocates appear not to be accepting exemptions for casinos, bingo halls, and bars which have been inserted by the state Senate (the casino exemption, but not bingo halls and bars, was also inserted by the House).

The Rest of the Story

Apparently, supporters of the smoking legislation will demand a consistent policy and simply refuse to support an inconsistent one. If necessary, they appear poised to kill the bill if it represents an inconsistent public health policy.

This is an all-too rare stand for basic public health principles, and it comes in the wake of a trend of anti-smoking groups all over the country caving in to political pressure to support policies that have lost their public health justification by failing to protect workers from a health hazard that the legislatures are deeming is a deadly one for other workers.

Just yesterday, public smoking policies went into effect in Oklahoma and Indianapolis that, in my view, have no public health justification, as they fail to guarantee protection for any workers from the alleged deadly effects of secondhand smoke and force businesses to make completely arbitrary decisions about other aspects of their business that will then dictate which employees are exposed and which are not exposed to secondhand smoke.

And recently, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) went as far as massively deceiving its constituents about a smoke-free proposal in New Jersey that failed to protect from 48,000 casino workers from secondhand smoke (ANR claimed in an action alert that the bill provided a smoke-free workplace for all workers in New Jersey).

Someone needs to be willing to stand up for their principles, whatever they are, and it is a pleasure to finally see some tobacco control advocates doing just that.

In the long run, this strategy is going to be eminently more effective than the caving in strategy, because it frames the issue as it should be framed, sets a positive example for other states and localities across the country, and does not degrade basic public health values and principles by sacrificing them to the whims and pressures of the political process.

In fact, it is clear in Colorado that it is not the proposed smoking ban in workplaces, but the exemptions that are the chief threat to passage of this legislation. Whether to provide smoke-free air for workers does not seem to be at issue. The only issue in contention is what the list of exemptions should look like.

I think this should send a message to tobacco control groups throughout the country that the support of inconsistent policies, as was done recently in Georgia, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Indianapolis, and D.C., is causing tremendous harm to efforts to protect all workers from the hazards of secondhand smoke.

It is time to stand up for something, or not to bother standing up at all.

No comments: