Yesterday was a real occasion for celebration: the 10th anniversary of New York state’s expanded Clean Indoor Air Act, a law that has been a success any way you look at it.
There are many actions government can take to reduce smoking, e.g. education, health warning labels, high taxes and advertising restrictions. All have been tried to one degree or other, with varying degrees of success. But none is so effective as simply banning the noxious activity in most public and private indoor work areas, as the state did on July 24, 2003.
The state law followed a similar one adopted by New York City in March 2003, at the beginning of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s first term. Bloomberg then, as now (with his calorie count requirements for fast-food restaurants and sugary drink restrictions), was interested in improving public health.
And cigarettes have been proven to endanger health — not just the smoker’s but those around him, through secondhand smoke. It is the protection of those people, many of them nonsmokers who were not asked for their consent before exposure, that justifies public smoking bans.
At first, there was opposition to these laws. Smokers claimed their rights were being violated, while bar and restaurant owners complained their businesses would be adversely affected. But after a brief period during which smokers stayed home, they started returning to their favorite haunts, realizing they could get by for a couple of hours without lighting up — or if they couldn’t, that they could do it outside.
Others, who hadn’t been going out much or at all because they couldn’t stand the smoke, started going out more often. New York City now has 6,000 more bars and restaurants than before the ban took effect. And those places not only are healthier for patrons and employees, they are cleaner (no smoke to dirty mirrors and chandeliers and clog air conditioner filters), which saves their owners money.
Smokers and owners no longer complain about the law — in fact, most support it — and a random sample by the state Bureau of Tobacco Control this year of taverns and restaurants statewide showed a compliance rate around 99 percent. Meanwhile, smoking rates for adults are down, as are hospitalizations for smoking-related diseases.
Good policy, good law.