Smokefree Air For Everyone (SAFE) was formed in 1992 when Esther Schiller and Andrea Portenier, who had both incurred lung damage from secondhand smoke at their respective workplaces and had lawsuits pending felt the need to form an organization to provide support for others in similar situations.
Esther won her worker’s compensation case in 1992 and Andrea settled her assault and battery case in 1994 after being able to get attention on the Today Show, CNN and in the LA Times and the Wall Street Journal.
They teamed with others to help LA pass an ordinance banning smoking in restaurants and workplaces. This, along with the increasing awareness of the liability of allowing smoking in the workplace helped get the California legislature to pass California’s first in the nation, statewide smokefree workplace law. Both these laws passed by one vote at the last possible moment, showcasing how difficult it can be to get measures that protect public health through legislative bodies, when powerful, monied interests like Big Tobacco stand in the way.
Through Esther’s efforts the organization brought in new volunteer members, and each was involved in letter writing campaigns that helped make Disneyland and UCLA home football games smoke free. Esther was interested in making LAX smokefree and brought Andrea and another member, Al Benson to speak to the LAX board of commissioners. Each told their stories and Andrea explained how agencies receiving federal funding are supposed to accommodate people with disabilities including respiratory disabilities. The board agreed and made LAX among the first airports to ban smoking indoors. It became the template for other airports to follow suit.
In the late 90’s Esther was able to secure a grant from the California Department of Public Health to educate bar owners about the new nonsmoking law. Andrea became involved in divestment efforts and in 2002 got SAFE involved in the Framework Convention Alliance, an international organization of NGOs, which helped guide the passage of the world’s first public health treaty- the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
After success with workplaces, Esther saw the need to clear multi-unit housing of secondhand smoke and secured state sand local grants to work on the issue. SAFE also hosted the first conference dedicated to protecting people from secondhand smoke where they live.
SAFE’s greatest asset has been its dedicated volunteer board and ability to venture into the next areas where tobacco smoke still needs to be cleared. We have currently foregone grants to operate more nimbly and go into those areas. We be delighted to have your contribution of any size.