Thursday, January 1, 1998
Come Jan. 1, 1998 all bars in California are required by state law to be smoke-free. The Health Department''s Tobacco Control Program has been preparing for this change and will be available to help bar owners, managers, and employees with the transition. It is important that the public know of the law in order to avoid embarrassment and difficulties for customers, bar owners and bar employees.
Some may wonder why bar patrons should be asked not to smoke. All other employees in the state have legal protection from the harmful effects of second- hand smoke, and it is unconscionable not to provide bar employees the same protection. This is especially so in view of the Journal of the American Medical Association''s report that California waitresses die from higher rates of lung and heart disease than any other female occupational group: Waitresses have four times the lung cancer mortality and two and a half times the expected heart disease mortality rate. The Harvard Medical School, in a large study, has found that high exposure to secondhand smoke doubles a woman''s risk of having a heart attack.
Another reason for the smoking ban is that 90 percent of bars are restaurant-bars. Families with children do go into restaurant-bars to dine, and because the smoke doesn''t know how to stay in the "smoking section," children are exposed to a significant health hazard. Eighty-two percent of the state''s population does not smoke and 77 percent of bar patrons say they would either prefer smoke-free bars or will not be affected by the prohibition of smoking in bars, according to a survey by the Field Research Corporation.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has classified second-hand tobacco smoke as a Group A carcinogen-a substance known to cause cancer. There is no known safe level of exposure to Group A toxins. Second-hand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in this country, killing 53,000 nonsmokers in the United States each year. Smoke from the tip of a cigarette has 20 times more carcinogens than the smoke inhaled by a smoker. If you are in a smoky bar for only two hours, the effect is the same as that of smoking four cigarettes.
Some bar owners may be worried about the effects of the law on their profits (tobacco industry front groups have been trying to stir up fear and trouble), but history and research studies indicate that the bottom-line effect will probably not be negative. In fact, business may increase as it has done in other cities or areas already having smoke-free bars. With all bars smoke-free, there will be "a level playing field," which has not been the case in Monterey County. Smokers who "need" to smoke before they are ready to leave a bar, can just step outside for a smoke-they still can choose to smoke. Likewise, people who, for health reasons, couldn''t go to places that allowed smoking, will have full choice of where to go for entertainment and socializing.
Look for signs and buttons that say "Celebrate, ALL bars smoke-free in 1998." There''s a healthful breath of fresh air in store for everyone. For more information about smoke-free bars, call the Monterey County Tobacco Control Program at 647-7910.
Oscar Garcia is chair of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Monterey County.
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