Secondhand Smoke Increases Health Risks
Exposure to small amounts of secondhand smoke significantly increases risk for heart disease, lung cancer and other conditions, according to a report issued on Tuesday by U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, the Washington Post reports. According to the report, which examines previous research, nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke indoors increase their risk for heart disease by 25% to 30% and their risk for lung cancer by 20% to 30%.
The report cites a 2005 estimate by CDC that secondhand smoke annually kills more than 3,000 nonsmokers from lung cancer and 46,000 from coronary heart disease, as well as 430 infants from sudden infant death syndrome (Kaufman, Washington Post, 6/28). In addition, the report states that children exposed to secondhand smoke increase their risk for bronchitis, pneumonia, increased asthma attacks, lung development problems and ear infections (Neergaard, AP/Newark Star-Ledger, 6/28).
The report states that brief exposure to secondhand smoke can increase the adhesiveness of blood platelets, damage the lining of blood vessels, reduce the flow of blood and impair the ability of the heart to provide oxygen to the body (Meyer/Manier, Chicago Tribune, 6/28). According to the report, U.S. residents today are exposed to less secondhand smoke than they were in the late 1980s.
Levels of cotinine, a biological marker for secondhand smoke, have decreased by 70% in nonsmokers since the late 1980s, and the percentage of nonsmokers with detectable amounts of cotinine has decreased from 88% to 43%, the report states (Bor et. al, Baltimore Sun, 6/28). However, the report states that more than 126 million U.S. residents ages three and older are exposed to secondhand smoke (Szabo, USA Today, 6/28).
The report states that ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems cannot eliminate the carcinogens in secondhand smoke and can spread smoke throughout buildings (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 6/27). Employees of restaurants and bars are exposed to some of the highest levels of secondhand smoke and have increased health risks as a result, the report states (USA Today, 6/28).
A "complete ban on indoor smoking is the most efficient and effective approach to control exposures to secondhand smoke," the report states (Chicago Tribune, 6/28). Currently, 17 states and more than 400 communities have passed "strong no-smoking laws," the AP/Star-Ledger reports.
According to the report, claims that smoking bans have negative effects on the business of restaurants and bars are unfounded (AP/Newark Star-Ledger, 6/28). The report also states that the tobacco industry has funded and conducted "biased" research in an effort "to undermine the findings of key studies" and has "attempted to sustain controversy even as the scientific community reached consensus" (Washington Post, 6/28).
Carmona said, "The health effects of secondhand smoke exposure are more serious than we previously thought. 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" (Howard Price, Washington Times, 6/28). He added, "Science has proven that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke" (Baltimore Sun, 6/28).
However, Carmona did not recommend specific legislation or action from Congress or the Bush administration to address the issue. He said, "When you get into banning and legislation, those are political decisions made by elected officials. My job, my responsibility as the doctor of the nation, is to get the best science and information to the public and to the elected officials, so that they can make the right decisions."
Stanton Glantz -- director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California-San Francisco, who helped draft the report -- said that the report has "tremendous public policy implications" (Chicago Tribune, 6/28).
Secondhand smoke experts hope that the report "will galvanize public sentiment" to address the issue, the Los Angeles Times reports (Maugh/Cline, Los Angeles Times, 6/28). In recent years, the Bush administration has remained "neutral or negative" about legislation that would allow FDA to regulate tobacco products and the World Health Organization global treaty on tobacco, the Post reports (Washington Post, 6/28).
Ron Davis, president-elect of the American Medical Association, said, "This report should be a wake-up call for lawmakers to enact comprehensive clean indoor air laws that prohibit smoking in all indoor public places and workplaces" (Baltimore Sun, 6/28).
John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society, said that the report "should end any lingering debate over the importance of enacting comprehensive smoke-free laws" (CQ HealthBeat, 6/27).
Thomas Glynn, director of cancer science and trends for ACS, said, "So many children are exposed in the home. If we do nothing else, we need to protect children because they are more vulnerable and the effects are lifetime effects" (Los Angeles Times, 6/28).
Matthew Myers, president and CEO of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, "This report once and for all ends any scientific debate about whether exposure to secondhand smoke is a cause of serious diseases like lung cancer and heart disease" (Washington Post, 6/28).
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco spokesperson David Howard said that "we believe proper ventilation does make a difference in being able to provide accommodation for smokers and nonsmokers alike" (Chicago Tribune, 6/28). Howard added, "Bottom line, we believe adults should be able to patronize establishments that permit smoking if they choose to do so" (AP/Newark Star-Ledger, 6/28).
A spokesperson for Philip Morris USA said that the company will review the report (Washington Post, 6/28).
- Jack Shipkoski et. al, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The report "calls attention to the fact that we can save lives and significantly cut health care costs by doing more to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, Shipkoski, CEO of the ACS South Atlantic Division; Charles White, CEO of the American Lung Association Southeast Region; and Jack Hannings, executive vice president of the American Heart Association Southeast affiliate, write in a Journal-Constitution opinion piece (Shipkoski et. al, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/28).
USA Today: Smokers have argued for "more than 40 years ... that they have just as much right to smoke in public buildings and workplaces as others have not to smoke," a USA Today editorial states. The editorial adds that the report "demolished" the argument (USA Today, 6/28).
- Jacob Sullum, USA Today: "The dangers posed by secondhand smoke are debatable and likely to remain so given the limitations of epidemiology," Sullum, a senior editor at Reason magazine, writes in a USA Today opinion piece. He adds, "Because the doses absorbed by nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke are much smaller than those absorbed by smokers, any health risks would be so small that it is difficult to confirm them in studies comparing, say, the spouses of smokers with the spouses of nonsmokers" (Sullum, USA Today, 6/28).
Several broadcast programs examined the report:
- ABCNews' "World News Tonight": The segment includes comments from Carmona; Utah state Sen. Scott McCoy (D); Chris Sherwin, executive director of the Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance; and a restaurant owner in Ohio who supports state smoking bans (Stark, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 6/27). A related ABCNews story is available online.
- NBC's "Nightly News": The segment includes comments from Carmona; Myers; and a U.S. resident who smokes (Savidge/Bazell, "Nightly News," NBC, 6/27). The complete segment is available online in Windows Media.
- PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer": The segment includes comments from Carmona (Lehrer, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 6/27). The complete transcript is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.