Statement by Chairman John H. Chafee
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Hearing on Environmental Tobacco Smoke
Wednesday, April 1, 1998

Good afternoon everyone. I want to start by thanking all of our witnesses for taking the time to appear before us today. The purpose of today's hearing is to examine the federal role in reducing exposures to Environmental Tobacco Smoke or ETS.

The effects of ETS on children less than 18 months of age are particularly staggering up to 15,000 (EPA) of such children are hospitalized each year with lower respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis. As many as half of the 5,000 cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome may be caused by ETS. Researchers also estimate that ETS lowers the birthweight of up to 19,000 babies, and causes at least 250,000 (EPA) middle ear infections and 8,000 (EPA) new cases of asthma in children each year.

In adults, ETS causes 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year. It also contributes to heart disease, breathing disorders and other forms of cancer. Literally dozens of studies reaffirm each of these findings.

ETS poses a difficult public policy issue. The ETS exposures of most concern are beyond the reach of the federal government. Those most vulnerable to ETS are children and non-smoking adults who live with smokers. Thus, the greatest problem is smoking in the home.

Workplace exposures are of concern, but only if an individual is exposed to a significant concentration of smoke during working hours. Bars and restaurants are among the smokiest workplaces, and smoke there often can result in health problems. However, it is the employees, not the patrons who are most at risk.

The question is, what legislative approach would most appropriately address this problem? The proposed tobacco settlement contemplates the regulation of every building in the nation that has not banned smoking altogether, and is entered by 10 or more people on any day the dry cleaner, the photography shop, the dress shop, every such shop. Bars and restaurants would be exempted.

This approach will do little to reduce the exposures of real concern. Children are not going to be effected by workplace regulations and the government can not regulate parental behavior. It may be that the best action would be an aggressive advertising campaign about the dangers of ETS, especially to one's children. I believe that once they are armed with the facts, parents will take the steps necessary to protect their children.

Workplace protections are needed, but not in every building. Changing attitudes about smoking, coupled with state and local smoking restrictions have greatly reduced smoking in the workplace. I believe it is inefficient to regulate every building in the nation to get at a problem that only exists in a few places.

So, this is not an easy problem to solve. I hope that today's proceedings will shed some light on how we might best address some of these difficult issues.