- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A long-awaited U.S. surgeon general’s report says secondhand smoke kills both children and adults in a variety of ways and concludes there is no risk-free level of exposure to someone else’s drifting smoke.

The report, released yesterday and more than 700 pages long, finds that separating smokers from nonsmokers is not enough because “even brief exposure adversely affects the cardiovascular and respiratory systems” of nonsmokers “who inhale the same toxins and cancer-causing substances as smokers.”

Harmful effects can be immediate, according to the report, titled “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke.”

“The health effects of secondhand smoke exposure are more serious than we previously thought,” Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona said in presenting the report. “The scientific evidence is now indisputable. Secondhand smoke is … a serious health hazard that can lead to disease and premature death in children and nonsmoking adults.”

Here are some of the new findings of the study — the most comprehensive federal investigation of the effects of secondhand smoke since a study released in 1986 by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop:

• “Involuntary” or “passive” smoking is a cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other illnesses in children, including pneumonia and other lung infections, ear infections and more severe asthma.

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

• Secondhand smoke can act on a person’s arteries so quickly that even a brief pass through someone else’s smoke can endanger people at high risk for heart disease.

The only way to protect nonsmokers from the dangerous chemicals in secondhand smoke is to eliminate smoking indoors and restrict it in public spaces, the report says.

David Howard, a spokesman for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., said he would not debate the conclusions of the report.

“However, we continue to believe that in age-restricted businesses such as bars and taverns, the business owners should have the right to establish their own smoking policies,” he said.

Data in the report indicate that secondhand smoke annually kills more than 3,000 nonsmoking Americans from lung cancer, 46,000 from heart disease and 430 infants from SIDS.

Dr. Carmona said he is especially concerned about the harm secondhand smoke can cause small children who live with smoking parents. Approximately 20 percent of all children are exposed to secondhand smoke at home, the report said.

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the report should “serve as a catalyst for state and local governments to enact comprehensive smoke-free laws,” which would bar smoking in all work settings and public places, including bars and restaurants.

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