By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
The American Heart Association won’t be holding any conventions in Orlando or any other city without comprehensive smoke-free laws.
The AHA’s new policy begins next year and requires any host cities for the association’s conventions to prohibit smoking in bars. The previous policy — passed in 2007 and updated in 2014 — required only restaurants to be smoke free.
Non-profits have long followed a time-honored tradition of not spending money where their policies are not backed. The change means that Orlando is off the table for future conventions.
The city hosted the AHA’s largest science meeting last November, Scientific Sessions, generating $40 million to $50 million in local revenue, Kathie Canning, executive director of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, told the Orlando Sentinel.
The five-day meeting typically averages 20,000 attendees, including scientific researchers and their families, said Emily Whitzel, AHA’s director of scientific and corporate meetings. She said Scientific Sessions is currently booked at convention sites through 2023.
The AHA’s last meeting scheduled in Orlando is the Hypertension Scientific Sessions 2016, being held at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin resort.
Florida has a “preemption restriction” in place that prevents local communities from passing smoke-free laws stronger than the state law, which allows smoking in free-standing bars.
“Preemption is a common tactic with big tobacco,” said Chris Sherwin, AHA’s director of tobacco policy. It’s used to stop the momentum of local communities as they pass smoke-free laws.
Similar restrictions are in place in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Virginia, he said.
There aren’t many cities large enough to accommodate large AHA meetings like Scientific Sessions, Sherwin said. Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New Orleans are large enough and meet the association’s smoke-free policies.
“We definitely have other choices, unfortunately Orlando is in a state where there’s a preemptive law,” he said.
AHA staff members began meeting with the Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2014 to discuss the policy update. Those meetings continue with staff and volunteers.
“We are all driving toward the same goal. A healthy, smoke-free environment would be a win for everyone and the Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau has been tremendous in helping us try to reach that goal,” said David Markiewicz, executive vice president of the AHA’s Greater Southeast Affiliate.
Similar meetings in New Orleans contributed to the city passing a strong smoke-free law last year, he said. The city now prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars and casinos.
There are exceptions to the AHA’s meeting policy, but they’re made only when communities can prove there are no other smoke-free locations available. Also, AHA’s CEO and national chairman of the board must approve.
Sherwin said the AHA supports a Florida bill that would repeal the state’s preemption on local municipal smoking bans, but it has met resistance from other lawmakers.
“We encourage state lawmakers to remove the preemption legislation,” Sherwin said. “Everyone has the right to breathe clean air.”
Secondhand smoke is a serious health concern in the U.S., causing 34,000 deaths annually among nonsmokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nonsmokers increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 percent to 30 percent by breathing secondhand smoke at home or work.