Everyone should breathe easier | VailDaily.com

Everyone should breathe easier

Arn Menconi

It’s government’s responsibility to protect the health and welfare of the community. The public expects restaurant inspections and kitchen cleanliness to govern the safety of what we put in our stomachs. Laws exist to protect workers and the public from dangerous chemicals such as asbestos, pesticides and radon. There are laws protecting restaurant patrons from hair follicles falling into food, and laws requiring restaurant workers to wash their hands before touching food to prevent the passage of germs. Yet, until now, there was no law in Eagle County protecting service workers from breathing the equivalent of one and a half to two packs of cigarettes during a shift in a smoke-filled restaurant or bar.On Jan. 10, the Board of County Commissioners established a partnership between Eagle County’s public health community, business leaders and youth. We joined together in support of a 100 percent smoke-free ordinance, which becomes effective in unincorporated Eagle County on March 11. The town of Avon also boldly agreed to protect its residents and visitors by adopting a 100 percent smoke-free ordinance.This cutting-edge ordinance will prevent premature deaths and illnesses from secondhand smoke by making all public places and work places – including restaurants, bars and 90 percent of hotel rooms – smoke-free. Additionally, outdoor areas including lift lines, chairlifts and gondolas and recreation areas will become smoke-free. This important public health measure is intended to protect patrons, workers, children and families. It will ensure that all Eagle County residents and visitors receive equal protection from the dangers of secondhand smoke.The adoption of this ordinance provides us the opportunity to showcase our healthy lifestyle to international, state and regional visitors while honoring the voice of the community who voted resoundingly to protect the health and safety of its citizens. Based on the results of Referendum 1B, I think we’re carrying out the wishes of 72 percent of the voters in Eagle County by adopting this 100 percent smoke-free ordinance. Make no mistake about it. Secondhand smoke is deadly. The Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly classified secondhand smoke as a Group A carcinogen, like asbestos. Secondhand smoke is responsible for an estimated 53,000 deaths annually among adult nonsmokers in the U.S. – deaths caused by cancer, heart and lung disease and other health complications. Secondhand smoke, the byproduct of cigarette use, is the third-most-preventable cause of death and disease in Colorado. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including arsenic, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide and radioactive elements. More than 60 of these chemicals have been identified as carcinogens. Secondhand smoke levels in restaurants and bars pose a significant health problem to all who enter them. Even brief exposure is dangerous. A smoke-filled room can contain up to six times the air pollution of a busy highway. Great harm is done to our service workers, workers who may not have a choice about where they draw a paycheck. The risk of lung cancer increases 34 percent when exposed to secondhand smoke on the job. Workers should be guaranteed a safe workplace, free from secondhand smoke. The most widely misunderstood claim by restaurant associations is the assertion that ventilation systems eliminate the risk from secondhand smoke. Scientific reports abound with evidence that ventilation systems are not the answer to healthy work places. The truth is that current ventilation systems remove visible smoke and some odor. Ventilation systems may reduce the immediate odor of tobacco smoke, but they don’t remove heavy carcinogenic particles from the carpet, walls, curtains and air in a restaurant. Restaurants providing a place for smokers and nonsmokers alike (but only one ventilation system) are circulating secondhand smoke throughout the entire restaurant. There is no safe level of secondhand smoke and there are no ventilation systems that eliminate the health risks attributed to secondhand smoke.Don’t believe the hype: Restaurateurs have been led to believe that smoke-free legislation will hurt their bottom lines. They have been told it will undermine their competitive advantage, drastically affect tourism, produce economic hardship in an economy already hit by worldwide tragedies and that it will require added law enforcement personnel. The truth is that study after study not commissioned by the tobacco companies, along with recent history from smoke-free communities, refutes every one of these arguments. The sales tax data from cities and states that enacted smoke-free legislation two or more years ago is finally in. According to California state health officials, newly released figures show restaurants and bars are doing a healthy business. In our own backyard, tourism continues to flourish in Snowmass Village, where the town council approved a smoke-free ordinance based upon the request of restaurant and bar owners and managers. There is also no basis for concern over additional enforcement procedures and staff to monitor compliance. In Summit County, not one single ticket has had to be issued since its ordinance was enacted. Smoke-free communities are self-enforcing through continued education and cooperation between local residents, bar, restaurant and hotel owners and workers, tourists who visit from the many countries worldwide that have gone entirely smoke-free, and local law enforcement who can offer friendly reminders that Eagle County is a smoke-free place to live and visit.Some think smoking is a right and should not be banned by heavy-handed government. Yet, in my view, the public’s health and welfare trumps the right to smoke in public places. Children are especially vulnerable to the choices adults make about smoking. Most cannot escape a smoke-filled room or auto. According to the National Cancer Institute, serious impacts of secondhand smoke on children include asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia, middle ear infection, chronic respiratory symptoms and low birth weight. Secondhand smoke also causes an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Smokers who live in communities with a strong ordinance consume 11 percent to 15 percent fewer cigarettes than average and the quit rate is 84 percent higher than the average. These important facts, along with new statistics that show youth initiation of tobacco drops significantly following the passage of a smoke-free ordinance in a town, city or state, provide strong support for legislation from smoking and nonsmoking communities alike. Tobacco use and subsequent addiction take root in adolescence. Each year in Colorado, 10,800 youth under the age of 18 will become daily smokers. The age of initiation for tobacco use in Colorado is a mere 11 years old. These young children become addicted to tobacco sometimes within weeks of their first cigarette.Next steps to implementing our smoke-free ordinance in Eagle County include creating a clear understanding of the key components of the ordinance for community members, businesses, and visitors; continuing to provide the public with information about the dangers of exposure to secondhand smoke; and supporting those people who want to quit smoking. The strength of this ordinance is based on supporting the healthy lifestyle already seen in most of Eagle County’s residents and visitors, and modeling for youth that protecting them from the serious consequences of secondhand smoke is a priority for the Board of County Commissioners.Arn Menconi is an Eagle County commissioner. He can be reached at arn.menconi@eaglecounty.usVail, Colorado

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