Denver-area workers shouldn’t have to put their lives at risk just to earn a paycheck. That’s the position of Chris Sherwin, the executive director of the Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance.
The group is hard at work trying to get the Denver city council to pass a ban that prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars or other public places. Over 3,000 Denver residents have signed a petition in support of the ordinance.
The Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance is gaining momentum. Sherwin said his organization is endorsed by 60 organizations throughout Denver from churches, to medical practices to major organizations promoting healthy hearts and lungs. The group has been around in some form or another since 1963 and is one of the oldest state tobacco control groups in the country.
"We’re seeing a growing number of supporters," Sherwin said.
Sherwin wants the city to support its workforce while realizing the dangers of second-hand smoke. A worker in a bar or restaurant who puts in an eight-hour shift typically inhales between a pack and a half to two packs of second-hand smoke. And as Sherwin points out, that’s unfiltered smoke. At least the smoker gets the benefit of a filter.
"That’s really the central issue is the workers’ rights," Sherwin said. "In many areas our society has made it clear workers deserve basic protections."
Factories and other businesses are regulated, Sherwin says, so why not bars and restaurants and other public places.
Sherwin said bars and restaurants are typically staffed by younger adults trying to earn money to get through school or older workers who have chosen this as their career. Either way, Sherwin wants those workers protected.
"The statement the City of Denver is making is its willing to expose its workers to carcinogens," he said.
In a recent survey the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 57 percent of those surveyed said smoking should not be allowed in restaurants while 79 percent said smoking should not be allowed in indoor work areas. The survey found that 76 percent of Denver bar patrons said they would visit bars as frequently or more frequently if smoking was not allowed.
Colorado Chief Medical officer Dr. Ned Calonge agrees with Sherwin. In an interview last week with Denver’s Nursing Star, Calonge said as a public health official he could not support smoking in public places because of the number of health risks associated with tobacco.
Sherwin said smoking restrictions in public places around the country will happen one day.
"Absolutely, it’s a matter of time," he said. "It’s very clear that smoke-free policies do not harm a community."
But Sherwin said the tobacco industry would like business owners to believe the opposite. Sherwin said the hand of the tobacco company can’t always be seen clearly until a few years down the road.
"It’s interesting in a lot of communities the tobacco industry has been not as involved as we thought it would be – at least visibly," he said. "I wouldn’t be surprised if we find out the communities we are working with now have very strong industry ties."
The battle is ongoing for the Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance.
"It’s a continuing process," he said. "It’s about finding support that’s already out there and continue to build on the momentum and keep the ball rolling."
Sherwin said a number of Colorado communities have already passed aggressive anti-smoking ordinances. Denver’s current ordinance is weak, he said, requiring businesses to place token signs that designate smoking areas even if there isn’t separate ventilation in that area.
Sherwin noted that second-hand smoke is the third-leading cause of preventable death and that for every eight people who die of smoking, one dies from second-hand smoke.
To learn more about the Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance, go to the group’s web site at www.smokefreedenver.org or call 1-800-821-4602.