We have believed for a long time that lots of people have been hurt, with many dying, as the result of second-hand smoke. Now, the Surgeon General has declared that second-hand smoke does in fact harm nonsmokers. I hope this will fuel nationwide efforts to ban smoking in public. On the subject of second-hand smoke, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona had this to say:
The debate is over. The science is clear: Second-hand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard.
More than 126 million nonsmoking Americans are regularly exposed to smokers’ fumes – what Dr. Carmona termed as “involuntary smoking” – and tens of thousands die each year as a result, concludes the 670-page study. The report cites “overwhelming scientific evidence” that second-hand smoke causes heart disease, lung cancer, and a host of other illnesses. It calls for completely smoke-free buildings and public places, saying that separate smoking sections and ventilation systems don’t fully protect nonsmokers. Seventeen states and more than 400 towns, cities, and counties have passed strong no-smoking laws.
There is another part of this problem. Public smoking bans don’t reach inside private homes, where just over one in five children breathe their parents’ smoke. Children’s bodies that are still developing are especially vulnerable. Second-hand smoke puts children at risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, as well as bronchitis, pneumonia, worsening asthma attacks, poor lung growth, and ear infections, the report found. Banning smoking in public places doesn’t attack the problem in the homes of American smokers.
Dr. Carmona implored parents who can’t kick the habit to smoke outdoors, never in a house or car with a child. Opening a window to let the smoke out won’t protect them. “Stay away from smokers,” he urged everyone else. Even a few minutes around drifting smoke is enough to spark an asthma attack, make blood more prone to clot, damage heart arteries, and begin the kind of cell damage that over time can lead to cancer, he said. When questioned about how the Bush Administration would implement his findings, Dr. Carmona would only pledge to publicize the report in hopes of encouraging anti-smoking advocacy. He said that passing anti-smoking laws is up to Congress and to state and local governments. Public health advocates believe the report should accelerate an already growing movement toward more smoke-free workplaces. Matthew Myers, who is with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, believes that:
This could be the most influential surgeon general’s report in 15 years. The message to governments is: The only way to protect your citizens is comprehensive smoke-free laws.
The report shouldn’t surprise doctors. It isn’t a new study, but a compilation of the best research on second-hand smoke done since the last Surgeon General’s report on the topic in 1986, which declared second-hand smoke a cause of lung cancer that kills 3,000 nonsmokers a year. Since then, scientists have proved that even more illnesses are triggered or worsened by second-hand smoke. More than 35,000 nonsmokers a year die from heart disease caused by second-hand smoke. Regular exposure to someone else’s smoke increases the risk of a nonsmoker getting heart disease or lung cancer by up to 30%, Dr. Carmona found. Some tobacco companies are now acknowledging the risks. But R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., which has fought the smoking bans, challenges the new report’s call for complete smoke-free zones and insists the danger is overblown.
In addition to the scientific report, Dr. Carmona issued some common sense advice for consumers and employers:
• Choose smoke-free restaurants and other businesses, and thank them for going smoke-free.
• Don’t let anyone smoke near your child. Don’t take your child to restaurants or other indoor places that allow smoking.
• Smokers should never smoke around a sick relative.
• Employers should make all indoor workspace smoke-free and not allow smoking near entrances, to protect the health of both customers and workers, and offer programs to help employees kick the habit.
Source: Associated Press
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