- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

1:48 p.m.

A surgeon general’s report released today says only smoke-free buildings and public places truly protect nonsmokers from the hazards of breathing in other people’s tobacco smoke.

About 126 million nonsmokers are exposed to secondhand smoke, what U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona repeatedly calls “involuntary smoking” that puts people at increased risk of death from lung cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.

“The debate is over. The science is clear. Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance but a serious health hazard,” Dr. Carmona said.

Moreover, there is no risk-free level of exposure to someone else’s drifting smoke, the report declares - a conclusion sure to fuel already growing efforts at public smoking bans nationwide. Fourteen states have passed what are considered comprehensive smoke-free-workplace laws, those that include restaurants and bars.

The surgeon general is especially concerned about young children who can’t escape their parents’ addiction in search of cleaner air. Slightly more than one in five children is exposed to secondhand smoke at home, where workplace bans don’t reach. Those children are at increased risk of SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome; lung infections such as pneumonia; ear infections; and more severe asthma.

Dr. Carmona implored parents especially to smoke outside if they can’t quit or while they’re trying to quit so that they don’t endanger their children, whose bodies are especially vulnerable to smoke’s toxic substances.

For everyone else, “stay away from smokers,” Dr. Carmona said.

The report won’t surprise doctors. It isn’t a new study but a compilation of the best research on secondhand smoke, the most comprehensive federal probe since the last surgeon general’s report on the topic in 1986, which declared secondhand smoke a cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers.

Since then, numerous other health agencies have linked secondhand smoke to heart disease and other illnesses. Earlier this year, California health officials estimated that secondhand smoke kills about 3,400 nonsmoking Americans annually from lung cancer, 46,000 from heart disease, and 430 from SIDS.

The tobacco industry and some businesses, particularly restaurant and bar owners concerned about the loss of smoking customers, have challenged some of the broadest public smoking bans in cities and states.

Among other findings:

• Separating smokers from nonsmokers and cleaning the air and ventilation systems don’t eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke.

• There is good evidence that comprehensive smoking bans, such as those in New York City and Boston, don’t economically hurt the hospitality industry.

• Secondhand smoke can act on the arteries so quickly that even a brief pass through someone else’s smoke can endanger people at high risk of heart disease. Don’t ever smoke around a sick relative, Dr. Carmona advised.

• Living with a smoker increases a nonsmoker’s risk of lung cancer and heart disease by up to 30 percent.

• On the plus side, blood measurements of a nicotine byproduct show that exposure to secondhand smoke has decreased. Levels dropped by 75 percent in adults and 68 percent in children between the early 1990s and 2002. However, not only has children’s exposure declined less rapidly, but levels of that byproduct among children are more than twice as high as in nonsmoking adults.

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