New Mexico celebrates one year of smoke-free indoor air

Balloons, awards, a few short speeches and lots of smiles and laughter were part of today’s festivities marking the first birthday of “Smoke-Free New Mexico.” Advocates who worked hard during the 2007 legislative session to pass the Dee Johnson Clean Indoor Air Act gathered to celebrate one year since that law went into effect, creating smoke-free indoor public places and workplaces, including restaurants and bars, across New Mexico.

Representative Al Park (D-26, Albuquerque) who sponsored the bill stated, “I consider the Dee Johnson Clean Indoor Air Act the hallmark of my 2007 legislative agenda. This bill was always about protecting health. I am proud to have sponsored this bill, which created healthy workplaces for New Mexicans and assures that people can safely enjoy our public places.” Park received an award from New Mexicans Concerned About Tobacco for his efforts to enact this law.

Clean indoor air is good, not only for health, but also for the economy. Nathan Bush, Government Relations Director for the American Cancer Society and Chairperson of New Mexicans Concerned About Tobacco, examined economic data for the category of businesses that includes hotels, bars, restaurants, and other hospitality and tourism associated businesses. During the last two quarters of 2007, after the Dee Johnson Clean Indoor Air Act went into effect, hospitality industry gross receipts increased by 9.48% over 2006 gross receipts for the same quarters. The state’s economy in all business sectors increased by only 4.14% for the same period of time, demonstrating that the hospitality industry outperformed other sectors of the economy. “New Mexico’s revenue increases track with what we have seen in other states that have enacted such laws,” stated Bush. “Communities that enacted local ordinances prior to the statewide law clearly showed that bars and restaurants continued to prosper, and there had been no economic loss as a result of smoke-free policies. These statewide data show that trend continuing.”

With the passage of the Dee Johnson Clean Indoor Air Act in March 2007, New Mexico became the 16th state to enact a strong smoke-free law that protects workers, residents and visitors from the poisons in secondhand smoke. Since then, the total number of states which have enacted similar laws has risen to 25.

Before the law went into effect, the air in restaurants, bars and billiard halls that allowed indoor smoking was extremely polluted with particulate matter. “A study that compared the air quality in 12 such places, before and after the Dee Johnson law went into effect, showed an amazing 87% improvement,” remarked Monica Patten, Coordinator of Tobacco Control Programs at the American Lung Association. “We know that particles from secondhand smoke cause lung cancer and other serious diseases. Ridding the air of these pollutants in places where people go to enjoy themselves is a terrific improvement.”

Six hundred New Mexicans were polled in November of last year. They were very positive about the smoke-free law. “Nine of ten people surveyed statewide knew about the law, only five months after it was put into effect. And it is amazing that only 4% of those who worked outside the home were being exposed to secondhand smoke at work,’ noted Jane Corinne, Director of New Mexicans Concerned About Tobacco. “We are really happy that workers were being protected at work so quickly.”

“Each year in New Mexico nearly 2,100 people die from illnesses caused by smoking – heart disease, stroke, cancer and lung disease,” explained Julia Valdez, Director of Government Affairs at the American Heart Association. “We worked so hard to pass this bill because we knew the difference it would make. It’s great to be able to go out to restaurants and businesses without inhaling secondhand smoke.”

Today’s event was sponsored by New Mexicans Concerned About Tobacco, a statewide coalition that includes the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association, and a network of nearly 2,500 grassroots advocates across the state. More information about the Dee Johnson Clean Indoor Air Act can be found at www.smokefreenm.com .

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