Coalition Celebrates 10-year Anniversary of Smoke-free Bars and Private Clubs

Current and past legislators, health care providers, youth advocates and restaurant patrons gathered at the DoubleTree Hotel in South Burlington to celebrate 10 years of breathing clean indoor air in restaurants, bars and private clubs in Vermont and to urge supporters to continue the fight for clean indoor air, including prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited.


“Although Vermont has definitely made progress since 2005, tobacco use is still the number one preventable cause of death,” said Jill Sudhoff-Guerin, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Vermont (ACS CAN). “With the huge uptake in e-cigarette use by Vermont’s youth, we still have a lot of work left to discourage the addictive and deadly appeal of nicotine.”


Commending the decade of smoke free success in Vermont, Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen also urged the crowd to continue to be vigilant as the tobacco industry continually comes up with new products to addict kids and adults, including e-cigarettes. “E-cigarettes may be safer than lit cigarettes, but they do not help a person quit smoking. In fact, most e-cigarettes contain nicotine and users generally end up using both e- and conventional cigarettes. Studies show that e-cigarettes contain chemicals that are toxic to the adolescent brain and detrimental to fetal development. In just the past three years, there has been an explosion of use among young people, with nearly an 800 percent increase among high school students in the U.S.”


Dr. Jan Carney, Professor of Medicine at University of Vermont School of Medicine, also spoke at the event and reiterated the importance of addressing e-cigarette use before the problem became more serious. “E-cigarette use by high school students has tripled in a single year and U.S. sales are projected to rise almost 25 percent each year.” Carney said.


This comes as the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Vermont prepares to launch a 2016 campaign to include e-cigarettes in Vermont’s Clean Indoor Air Laws.


American Heart Association Government Relations Director Tina Zuk praised the communities of South Burlington, Williston, Burlington, and Winooski for leading the effort to eliminate smoking in bars, largely out of concern over the impact of secondhand smoke on wait staff, patrons and musicians. “Those communities took action to protect public health and the state agreed that the health of Vermonters should come first. This helped established today’s norm where no one expects to see smoking in a work place or public place. Allowing e-cigarette use in these places normalizes smoking behavior and is a real risk to public health. ”


Rebecca Ryan, Senior Director of Health education and Public Policy for the American Lung Association added, “It’s a logical next step to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes where smoking is prohibited so the norms we’ve worked so hard to establish aren’t eroded. Children who see e-cigarettes used in public places may perceive them as regular cigarettes, threatening to re-glamorize the act of smoking.” Ryan added, “Allowing the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace also discourages quitting tobacco use by offering smokers an alternative way to get nicotine when they cannot smoke.”


Throughout the event, speakers reminded the crowd that Vermont still has work to do to discourage the addictive and deadly appeal of tobacco products. Coalition leaders encouraged participants at the event to join them in supporting legislation to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in work and public places.


Attendees likened today’s battle to include e-cigarettes in the state’s clean indoor air law to the battle ten years earlier. The program recalled the contentious battle that ensued in 2004 and 2005, when advocates from the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and other public health organizations pushed to pass a bill to remove the “cabaret exemption” from Vermont’s tobacco control laws, an exemption that was created with the passage of a law in 1993 that prohibited smoking in most of Vermont restaurants, but allowed for smoking if the business’ primary revenue was from alcohol and entertainment.


While state lawmakers considered the pros and cons of removing the cabaret exemption in 2004, city councilors and select board members took action. Burlington was the first city in Vermont to prohibit smoking in bars and private clubs, and South Burlington, Winooski and Williston soon followed. Ultimately, state lawmakers saw the positive outcome of the local ordinances and listened to the pleas from bar employees, who were subjected to secondhand smoke just for working their shift. In 2005, the Legislature passed a bill that prohibits smoking in all bars and private clubs that went into effect September 1.


While the Vermont Tavern Association opposed the statewide bar-smoke-free law, claiming “pub owners would prohibit smoking on their own if it would improve bar receipts,” forward thinking lawmakers like Rep. Ann Pugh cited data from New York that showed that their laws prohibiting smoking in pubs did not hurt business. Rep. Helen Head said, “The passage of this bill was so important 10 years ago.  I remember how proud my committee was to pass it.” According to Head, this law was a “final triumph in their last biennium” for former Rep. Ann Siebert, who was instrumental in leading early tobacco control efforts, and then chair, Rep. Francis Brooks.

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