Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's Testimony to the
Council Committee on Health
October 10th, 2002
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The measure before us today offers all of us - the Mayor the Speaker you and all other members of this legislative body a rare opportunity: not simply to achieve the goal that most of our work is directed toward - that is, to improve the quality of life for our fellow New Yorkers.
No, it will do something much more precious. It will preserve lives - extend lives - save lives. In fact, it will almost certainly save more lives than any other proposal that will ever come before this chamber.
The facts are incontrovertible. Any reputable scientist will tell you that tobacco kills more New Yorkers than any other cause - roughly ten thousand people in this city each year, including some one thousand from involuntary smoking-otherwise known as "second-hand smoke."
Enacting this bill, Intro 256, will not outlaw the right of an individual to smoke and put his or her own life in jeopardy. If someone wants to inhale smoke, directly or indirectly, that's their right.
But Intro 256 will protect thousands and thousands of New Yorkers from involuntary exposure to the arsenic, formaldehyde and other deadly chemicals present in smoke-filled rooms. Intro 256 will ensure that no worker in our city will ever have to risk contracting cancer, or heart disease, or lung disease, from exposure to others' smoke, just to hold a job.
The question before us is straightforward: does your desire to smoke anywhere, at any time, trump the right of others to breathe clean air in the workplace?
Common sense and common decency demand the following answer: the need to breathe clean air is more important than the license to pollute it.
The protection of air quality in the workplace is receiving mounting attention from local governments in this region and across the nation.
Earlier this week, the Nassau County Legislature enacted a measure similar to Intro 256. With a law taking up no more than one page of print, they have protected all workers in that county. Can we do less?
Elected officials in Westchester and Suffolk counties also are deliberating comparable measures. If those counties along with our city, pass these measures, more than half the state's population will be covered. The cities of Chicago and Boston also are considering this issue. And statewide protections against secondhand smoke have already been legislated in Delaware and California.
Clearly, the question of protecting workers from secondhand smoke is increasingly becoming one, not of "when," but of - why not now!
Today, you will hear compelling testimony in favor of Intro 256. It will come from witnesses who are New Yorkers. They are taxpayers. They are voters. They are employers. They are our relatives, friends and neighbors. Their testimony will make the case for Intro 256 unassailable.
None of them is being paid, directly or indirectly, by the tobacco industry to testify. That is a statement that some of those who will later be testifying against Intro 256, and recommending leaving workers exposed to cancer-causing chemicals, will not be able to make.
Seated with me are three witnesses whose testimony will directly follow mine. The first is city health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden, a man recognized as one of the world's premier epidemiologists. Ten years ago, Dr. Frieden led the effort that stopped New York City's epidemic of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. As a result, New York City's program has become an international model for controlling TB.
At the time that I recruited him to become Health Commissioner, he was working in India, where he had assisted that nation's government in developing one of the world's most effective and largest public health programs - one that to date has saved more than two hundred thousand lives.
On assuming office, at my direction, Dr. Frieden examined the conditions that were making New Yorkers sick. He found that tobacco use was the number one cause of preventable death in New York City, killing more people than TB, AIDS, homicide, suicide and alcohol combined. Today, we have the results; now we must act.
I also am honored to introduce Dr. Harold Varmus, recipient of the Nobel Prize for medicine for his studies on the genetic basis of cancer. He is a former director of the National Institutes of Health, and is currently the President and CEO of one of the most respected cancer research and treatment facilities in the nation, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He is the author of more than three hundred scientific papers and four books. He has contributed greatly to the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
He sees the results of smoke every day. Perhaps later you might ask him how easy it is to tell patients or family members that they or someone they love have only a short, painful death ahead - even though that person was a non-smoker.
The fourth witness on this first panel is Matinah Payne-Yehudah. She has worked in the restaurant and bar industry for many years. She has asthma; she also is expecting to give birth early next year. And she is here today to tell you her concerns about the effects of breathing tobacco smoke on her health and on the health of her expected child.
On panels following this one, you will hear from other employees of restaurants, bars and offices who are not currently protected from secondhand smoke on the job. Their health would be safeguarded and their lives would be extended by passing Intro 256.
Opponents of this measure casually suggest that these witnesses could simply find other jobs. I don't know what world they're living in; in my mind, that statement is as divorced from reality as Marie Antoinette's suggestion that those without bread simply eat cake.
You also will hear from economists, and restaurateurs, and bar owners who will testify that going smoke-free does not hurt business. You will hear from concerned New Yorkers who want to protect their communities and ensure that every New Yorker breathes clean air while at work.
The testimony of Doctors Frieden and Varmus on the danger of secondhand smoke also will be corroborated by testimony from other eminent medical experts.
They will describe how even thirty minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke changes the blood's chemistry, increasing the risk of heart attack. They will explain how putting in an eight-hour shift in a smoke-filled restaurant or bar is the equivalent of smoking half a pack of cigarettes. They will tell you that the air in a smoke-filled bar is more dangerous to breathe than that in the Holland Tunnel at rush hour.
Members of the Council: none of us would choose to work in such an unhealthy environment. None of us would want our loved ones exposed to such dangers every working day.
Intro 256 is our opportunity to free thousands of workers in our city from such hazardous conditions. It should be seen as the just and logical extension of protections against secondhand smoke that already are in place in most public settings.
Opponents of Intro 256 have raised a variety of objections, none of which stands up to careful scrutiny.
They have proposed a number of compromises and exemptions, none of which passes the tests of practicality or fairness.
In fact, the arguments against Intro 256, and the various proposals to saddle it with hostile and unworkable amendments, are - excuse the phrase - a smokescreen.
They are part of a well-orchestrated disinformation campaign designed to distract the public - and you - from the real issues at hand: the right to earn a living in a safe workplace environment. The tobacco industry's support for this decades-long disinformation campaign is intended to weaken the regulation of an innately dangerous product.
You will note that they have given up contending that smoking by you - or someone else in the same room - is not harmful. The evidence of that is clear. Secondhand smoke kills. Instead, they focus on diversionary, non-germane arguments.
One such disinformation claim is that those who cannot smoke in offices, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs will loiter on street corners and disturb the peace.
Forget for a moment the absurdity of equating that possible behavior with a known life-threatening activity. The fact is, loitering and disturbing the peace are illegal. The city has the means to prevent such activity, and will enforce the laws against it.
The NYPD's dramatic successes in reducing crime and making New York the safest large city in the nation have been built on a foundation of zero-tolerance for such behavior. No one should doubt that my administration intends to build on that foundation of success.
Case in point: last weekend, we launched Operation Silent Night, a major, coordinated, citywide crackdown on noise. As part of that operation, the NYPD issued 778 summonses, made 34 arrests and seized seven vehicles.
I urge all New Yorkers whose peace is disturbed by noise or rowdiness on the streets to call the police department's quality of life hotline at 1-888-677-LIFE.
Let's get real. There is no evidence that banning smoking increases such disturbances. In New York City, thousands of restaurants are already smoke-free. This has not produced a problem with loitering or disturbing the peace. The evidence from other states and cities where smoke-free legislation has been passed is similar.
Another element in the disinformation campaign against Intro 256 is that business owners will suffer financially if the air in their establishments is clean.
I ask you to consider the wide range of public venues in New York in which smoking is already prohibited:
Movie theatres, concert halls, museums, airplane terminals and train stations, sports stadiums and arenas, and, since 1995, thousands of eating establishments comprising more than half of the total number of restaurants in New York city.
There is no evidence that prohibiting smoking has reduced attendance or income at those venues.
Most people, even those who smoke, prefer to breathe clean air. Four out of five adult New Yorkers don't smoke. Some public opinion surveys have suggested that many more New Yorkers would go out more often if bars and nightclubs become smoke-free.
Along with these fabricated arguments against Intro 256, the various proposals to undermine it with amendments and exemptions are a second line of attack. They are uniformly unworkable and unfair.
Separate smoking rooms have, for example, been proposed. These are a bad idea for the same reason that smoking areas are not permitted in airplanes, hospitals, schools, libraries, and movie theatres. Smoky air gets recirculated. Nor can all businesses afford to construct separate rooms. Creating an uneven playing field for such businesses is not good public policy.
Ventilation systems, which also will be suggested as a way to delay or derail this legislation, are no solution, either. They simply don't work. No ventilation system can prevent smoke from affecting a worker, such as a waiter or bartender, who is two feet from the smoke.
The engineering requirements for adequate ventilation to remove the poisons in secondhand smoke are so cumbersome, expensive, and complex that they simply cannot be implemented and enforced. And, as with separate smoking areas, the expense involved in installing such ventilation creates an uneven playing field for business.
The experience other cities and states have had with mandating such ventilation systems also is instructive. When legislators in those jurisdictions have realized that ventilation systems haven't solved the problem of eliminating secondhand smoke, and have proposed new action, what has been the result?
Business owners protest - with some justification - that the money that government has encouraged them to invest in ventilation systems has been wasted.
The only problem is that their anger is misplaced; it ought to be directed at the tobacco lobby.
Remember: Nothing in the 1995 Smoke-Free Workplace Act has required any business owner to invest in better ventilation. If some have, they have done so on their own, usually at modest cost.
And Intro 256 would actually help owners of businesses where smoking is now permitted. It would end the constant hassle of satisfying customers who want seating or accommodations completely free from contact with smoke.
Some will testify that the decision to go smoke-free should be left up to individual employers. This is a hollow argument. When one person's smoking causes another person significant risk of disease and death, government must act.
All workers deserve a safe, healthy work environment. No one should be allowed to make someone else sick. Would anyone seriously suggest that the removal of asbestos fibers or other serious carcinogens from the air should be similarly discretionary?
Finally, some will put forward proposals to exempt certain locations from the provisions of this proposed law. Those who want such exemptions just need to tell us this: which workers have lives that are worth less than yours and mine?
Because the members of this Council recognize that we have an obligation to protect the lives of all New Yorkers, I believe you will pass this historic legislation.
I believe you will seize this historic opportunity to protect the health and the lives of thousands of our fellow New Yorkers. I believe you will make New York City a national leader in ending the workplace hazards of secondhand smoke.
I urge this committee to report Intro 256 to the Council promptly and affirmatively. It would be a fitting achievement if this landmark law were to be passed by the council and signed in time for the Annual Great American Smokeout, on Thursday, November 21st.
Then, you, the Council, and I can gather on the steps of City Hall, along with one thousand other people, to symbolize the annual number of our friends and neighbors who will live because of your work.
Let me make one final request - this one, to those in the audience who have come to participate in the democratic process, through your presence and your applause.
All of today's witnesses have a right to express their views - and the members of this committee have a right to hear them - without interference.
If you disagree with someone's testimony, show that disagreement with your silence. Nothing will show the commitment to your beliefs more than the deafening expression of what those who died from secondhand smoke hear for an eternity.
Let's permit the democratic process to go forward. In a reasonable and open discussion of the facts, I, for one, have no doubt what the outcome will be.
Members of the committee: thank you for the opportunity
to present this testimony. I look forward to standing with you to protect
the health of all who live and work in our city.