Protect Local Control

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Press Release

New Hampshire Supreme Court Jeopardizes Public Health By Ruling Against the Right Of Local Communities To Protect Residents From Secondhand Smoke

Publication Date: 2003-08-19

The New Hampshire Supreme Court struck a blow against public health today by ruling that cities and towns in New Hampshire do not have the right to protect the health of their citizens through the enactment of laws to restrict smoking in workplaces and public places. At issue was an ordinance in Colebrook, NH requiring that all restaurants be 100% smokefree. The Court determined that the ordinance is preempted by the State Indoor Smoking Act and that no city or town may enact laws relating to smoking control if they are premised on protecting public health.

With its decision, the Supreme Court has prevented local communities from using the most effective public health strategy known in countering the health hazards of smoking. Not only do smokefree laws protect the health of nonsmokers, but they also encourage many smokers either to quit smoking altogether or to cut down on the amount they smoke. More than 1600 communities around the country have enacted smokefree air laws, and 144 communities have passed laws making all restaurants totally smokefree.

Because of these successes, the tobacco industry has made preemption of local control its #1 policy objective in an attempt to quash local grassroots action and to eliminate the best means for communities to achieve smokefree protections. As stated by a former tobacco industry lobbyist:

"We could never win at the local level... So the Tobacco Institute and tobacco companies' first priority has always been to preempt the field, preferably to put it all on the federal level, but if they can't do that, at least on the state level."

-- Victor L. Crawford, Former Tobacco Institute Lobbyist, Journal of the American Medical Association, 7/19/95

"Smokefree air laws enacted at the local level are a very effective way to protect people from the health hazards associated with secondhand smoke," said Cynthia Hallett, Executive Director of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. "It is disappointing that the New Hampshire Supreme Court believes that local communities do not have the right to take action to protect themselves from secondhand smoke. The public never benefits from preemption."

New Hampshire advocates and residents expressed their frustration with today's ruling in a press release from the Smoke-Free New Hampshire Alliance.

"Towns should be able to protect their citizens from a known carcinogen like second hand smoke," said Joanne St. Pierre, Director of Government Relations and Advocacy for the American Cancer Society. "In this instance, the town indicated its preference for smoke-free dining via ballot vote not once, but twice."

"This ruling is a major blow to public health in Colebrook and for other local communities," says Debbie Hornor, Executive Director of the Smoke-Free New Hampshire Alliance. "And in many ways, it represents a win for the tobacco industry in our state."

More than 100 major scientific studies, including the National Cancer Institute's Monograph #10, show that secondhand smoke is the cause of serious disease and death, including lung cancer, heart disease, and asthma. Further, the scientific community is in agreement that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

This decision is a setback to public health and a slap in the face to local policymakers. All residents in New Hampshire concerned about the disease and premature death caused by secondhand smoke should urge their state legislators to immediately restore local control. Now is the time for the public health community in New Hampshire to take a stand and fight for what is rightfully theirs - the ability to breathe smokefree air.

Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights is a national, member-based, not-for profit organization dedicated to protecting nonsmokers from the premature death and chronic disease caused by secondhand smoke.


Full text of the New Hampshire Supreme Court's decision .