Surgeon General confirms secondhand smoke is hazardous

by Crystal Gottfried, Staff Writer

The "indisputable" and "alarming" evidence that secondhand smoke is a public health hazard was announced last week by the Surgeon General.

Dr. Richard H. Carmona said that measures like no-smoking sections do not provide enough protection from secondhand smoke that has been attributed to tens of thousands of premature deaths among non-smokers each year.

"Smoke-free environments are the only approach that protects nonsmokers from the dangers of secondhand smoke," he said.

Although Carmona did not call for a federal ban on smoking in public places in his televised news conference, a growing number of cities and states have heeded his warnings.

"I am here to say the debate is over: the science is clear," Dr. Carmona said after he released a "Surgeon General's report on secondhand smoking" report which updated the original surgeon general's study of secondhand smoke in 1986.

Since that time, hundreds of studies have indicated that the harm caused by secondhand smoke is far greater than earlier believed.

The report includes these findings:

There is no safe level of secondhand smoke, and even brief exposure can cause harm, especially for people suffering from heart or respiratory diseases.

For nonsmoking adults, exposure raises the risk of heart disease by 25 percent to 30 percent and of cancer by 20 percent to 30 percent. It accounted for 46,000 premature deaths from heart disease and 3,000 premature deaths from cancer last year.

Secondhand smoke is a cause of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, accounting for 430 deaths last year. The risk is elevated for children whose mothers were exposed during pregnancy and for children exposed in their homes after birth.

The impact on the health and development of children is more severe than previously thought. "Children are especially vulnerable to the poisons in secondhand smoke.

Efforts to minimize the effect of secondhand smoke by separating smokers and nonsmokers are ineffective, as are ventilation systems in a shared space.

While exposure has declined, as many as 60 percent of nonsmokers show biological evidence of encountering secondhand smoke, and 22 percent of children are exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes.

The studies which were conducted by the Centers for Disease Control show that great progress has been made in reducing exposure.

According to Carmona, the amount of cotinine, the form nicotine takes after being metabolized, in blood samples fell by 75 percent among adults, according to specimens taken from 1999 to 2002 that were compared with samples taken a decade earlier.

However, Dr. Carmona said, more needed to be done, particularly to protect children. He urged parents who smoke not only to quit, but also to move their smoking outside while trying to quit.

"Make the home a smoke-free environment," he said.

Tobacco companies continue to insist that the risks of secondhand smoke are unproved and overstated. R. J. Reynolds has stated on its website that "it seems unlikely that secondhand smoke presents any significant harm to otherwise healthy nonsmoking adults; and, given the extensive smoking bans and restrictions that have already been enacted, nonsmokers can easily avoid exposure to secondhand smoke."

But Dr. Cheryl G. Healton, the president and chief executive of the American Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit group created to use settlement money from tobacco companies to educate young people about the dangers of tobacco, reportedly called the surgeon general's report "groundbreaking" even though much of its information had already been published in journal articles.

By bringing it all together, the Surgeon General has created a persuasive case for smoking bans. The report can be found online at "http://surgeongeneral.gov/library/secondhandsmoke" \t "_" surgeongeneral.gov/library/secondhandsmoke/.


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