Background: Despite the provisions of a Smoke-Free Air Act (SFAA) enacted in 1995, more than 415,000 non-smoking New York City workers reported exposure to second-hand smoke in the workplace all or most of the time in 2002. Continued exposure to second-hand smoke in New York City prompted a renewed debate about a broader smoke-free air law.
Methods: The approach taken by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to make the case for workplace protection from second-hand smoke, counter the opposition's arguments, and ultimately win the support of policymakers and the public for comprehensive smoke-free workplace legislation is described.
Results: On December 30, 2002, New York City's Mayor signed the SFAA of 2002 into law, making virtually all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, smoke-free.
Conclusions: Proponents for a stronger law prevailed by defining greater protection from second-hand smoke as a matter of worker health and safety. Efforts to enact smoke-free workplace laws will inevitably encounter strong opposition, with the most common argument being that smoke-free measures will harm businesses. These challenges, however, can be effectively countered and public support for these measures is likely to increase over time by focusing the debate on worker protection from second-hand smoke exposure on the job.