As a grandson of R.J. Reynolds, I have seen the wealth the tobacco business can create. I have also seen the harm tobacco does. My own father, R.J. Reynolds, Jr., my eldest brother, R.J. Reynolds III, and other family members died of cancer, heart disease, and emphysema caused by smoking the brands that made our family wealthy.
My grandfather didn’t know the health effects when he founded his company in 1875. By now, however, there is an undeniable body of scientific and medical evidence proving that smoking causes cancer, heart disease, and lung disease, and that secondhand smoke causes the deaths of an estimated 50,000 Americans annually.
That is why I cut off all association with my family’s former company, and founded Tobaccofree.org.
I love this work, championing smoke-free laws nationally as a volunteer, and giving talks at middle schools, high schools, and colleges to support my campaign. I’m not rich in dollars, but I feel wealthy. I get to make a difference, and will remain dedicated to this cause for as long as it takes.
Smoke Less Ohio would have you believe that the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. has turned over a new leaf. They claim that tobacco companies are spending millions to pass Issue 4 out of a stated desire to protect public health. This lie is even harder to swallow than R. J. Reynolds’ past claims that tobacco doesn’t cause lung cancer.
Ohio voters should not be fooled. Issue 4 is a pro-smoking constitutional amendment that would keep restaurants, bars, and other public places smoke-filled, exposing Ohio workers, residents, and children to secondhand smoke.
It would overturn 21 local smoke-free laws in Ohio, includung Toledo’s, and prevent any future ones from being passed. It would make it unconstitutional to protect the health of half a million restaurant, bar, and other hospitality workers and patrons from secondhand smoke.
R. J. Reynolds is funding the Issue 4 campaign. The tobacco company announced to stockholders it would spend $40 million to defeat statewide smoke-free laws proposed in Ohio, Arizona, and other states.
That’s right. Issue 4 is a blatant attempt to block Issue 5, which is the good statewide, smoke-free law backed by the American Cancer Society and other public health groups. Since Issue 4 is a constitutional amendment, it would trump Issue 5, if both passed. R.J. Reynolds is banking on Ohio voter confusion to defeat Issue 5.
R.J. Reynolds has refused to admit what the U.S. Surgeon General, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and every major health organization recognizes: secondhand smoke causes lung cancer and other diseases in nonsmokers.
R.J. Reynolds is peddling a bag of misinformation about Issue 4. First, RJR’s Smoke Less Ohio campaign claims its Issue 4 would make 90 percent of businesses smoke-free.
In reality, any business that slapped a “minors prohibited” sign on the front door could allow smoking. That includes offices and factories. RJR’s Issue 4 ignores the real threat posed by secondhand smoke to the health of the 534,000 Ohio workers in restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, and other public places.
Second, Issue 4 claims to allow smoking only in adult places. However, children still go to restaurants, bowling alleys, and other places that would allow smoking under Issue 4.
Issue 4 claims separate smoking and nonsmoking sections in restaurants would protect health. But that’s just cosmetic; the U.S. Surgeon General’s report on secondhand smoke found that separate smoking sections do not work. The report found that there is no safe level of exposure. The only way to protect public health is to ask smokers to step outside for a few minutes.
Toledo has many family-owned restaurants. R.J. Reynolds has a history of scaring bar and restaurant owners into thinking a smoke-free law will hurt business.
But their predictions of economic doom haven’t come true in the 14 states and several nations that have passed strong, smoke-free laws. Studies of sales tax revenues in California and Massachusetts showed zero decline in sales in towns which had banned smoking 100 percent.
The California Restaurant Association at first opposed that state’s smoke-free law, but the spokesman, Paul McIntrye, changed his mind after it was enacted. He said, “My concerns about the success of the smoke-free law, however, quickly vanished soon after it was enacted. While there was an adjustment period – for restaurants, it was four to six weeks, and for bars a little longer – the public still accepted it. California was in the depths of the greatest recession since World War II, but restaurant sales did not slump as the tobacco industry threatened they would. Rather, they continued to climb at rates of 4 to 11 percent annually. No jobs were lost.”
Philip Morris has stopped fighting smoke-free laws, but R.J. Reynolds obstinately continues to spread misinformation. It has crossed over to the dark side and has become the bad boy outlaw of Big Tobacco.
Toledo was Ohio’s first major city to pass a strong smoke-free law. Toledoans have experienced more debate on this issue than other cities. But the fairest, simplest approach is to set the same standard for all businesses statewide, and to give all workers and customers the same level of protection. Issue 5 would do that. Issue 4 would not.
Issue 5 doesn’t take away an adult’s choice to smoke. It simply asks smokers to step outside in public places to protect the health of those around them. Their choice to smoke is pre-empted indoors by the nonsmoker’s right to breathe smoke-free air.
Businesses are regulated every day to make sure they provide a safe environment for employees and customers. Business owners don’t choose whether employees wash their hands before they prepare food or cook food to safe temperatures.
What other industry is allowed to blatantly expose its workers to known carcinogens, when there is a simple way to protect them? No worker should be forced to choose between earning a living and protecting his or her health.
Ohio voters should consider whether to stand with R.J. Reynolds or the American Cancer Society on Nov. 7. Everyone has the right to breathe smoke-free air in public places. Do they trust a company profiting off the deaths of 420,000 Americans each year, or the cancer society, which first proved the link between smoking and lung cancer?
I trust Ohio voters will see past RJR’s smokescreen and vote NO on Issue 4 and YES on Issue 5.
Think about it: 14 states have passed laws providing for 100 percent smoke-free bars and restaurants, nine of them since 2003. Worldwide, entire nations have passed similar laws, including Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Spain, England, several Scandinavian countries, and France.
We’ve reached the tipping point. A smoke-free workplace is an idea whose time has arrived.