by Sarah Balog
Who ‘deserves’ to be safe and have their health protected in the workplace? Do factory laborers deserve it? Do hospital employees? Do government workers? What about bar and nightclub employees? If the DeKalb County Commission could eliminate something from workplaces in the county that is known to increase a person’s risk of death from heart attack, stroke and cancer — why wouldn’t they do so?
That is the question the people of DeKalb and the American Heart Association want to ask the Commission as its members prepare to vote tomorrow on the comprehensive smoke-free ordinance for DeKalb County as proposed by the Board of Health. Why not act now to eliminate public exposure to cigarette smoke? This crucial health ordinance, as proposed, would cover all workplaces and protect the health of all workers and patrons.
In the landmark 2006 report "The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke," the U.S. Surgeon General found there is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure, and the only way to offer protection against exposure is to establish smoke-free environments. All employees – whether they work in factories, office buildings or bars and restaurants – should be given equal protection when it comes to the air they breathe.
This idea is not something new and revolutionary. Savannah – a city known for its nightlife – chose to do this almost a year ago and passed an ordinance very similar to what DeKalb County is considering tomorrow. Since January 1, 2011, Savannah has been smoke-free in all indoor public spaces and it has not seen any negative impact on alcohol sales or tourism.
Much of the debate on this issue in DeKalb County has centered on whether bar, nightclub and strip club dollars will flee to Fulton County should this ordinance pass. However, I would remind our commissioners that the City of Decatur is already smoke-free and is home to many thriving entertainment venues! It is time for the county to follow the lead of one of its biggest municipalities and make DeKalb’s commitment to the health of its citizens a model for the metro Atlanta region.
The Commission needs to pass a comprehensive smoke-free law that covers all workplaces and protects the health of all workers and patrons. The people of DeKalb want this law and oppose the adoption of any exemptions or grandfathering amendments that would compromise the health of employees or enforcement of the law.
The safety of the people who work in DeKalb County does matter.
Ms. Balog is government relations director for the American Heart Association's Greater Southeast Affiliate.