AHA enacts tougher anti-smoking policy for cities hosting its conferences

The American Heart Association (AHA) said it would not hold conventions in cities that do not have comprehensive smoke-free laws.

The new policy, which the AHA revealed in a blog post on Feb. 26, will go into effect in 2017 and will require cities that host AHA conferences to prohibit smoking in bars. The current policy requires cities to have smoke-free restaurants.

In November, the AHA held its annual Scientific Sessions in Orlando. Chris Sherwin, AHA’s director of tobacco policy, said in the blog post that Florida allows smoking in free-standing bars and prevents cities from passing smoke-free laws that are stronger that the state law.

“Preemption is a common tactic with big tobacco,” Sherwin said. “It’s used to stop the momentum of local communities as they pass smoke-free laws.”

The AHA will hold its Council on Hypertension Scientific Sessions from Sept. 14 to 17 in Orlando. However, it will not have any other conferences in Florida until the law is changed. Sherwin said Oklahoma, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Virginia have similar restrictions.

AHA staff members have met with Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau representatives since 2014 about the policy update and continue to discuss the initiative. The AHA’s annual Scientific Sessions are booked at convention sites through 2023.

“We are all driving toward the same goal,” David Markiewicz, executive vice president of the AHA’s Greater Southeast Affiliate, said in the blog post. “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.”