No amount of second-hand smoke is safe.
And the only way to protect non-smokers is through smoke-free environments. Separating smokers and non-smokers within the same air space or relying on sophisticated ventilation systems just doesn't work.
That's the conclusion of a new US Surgeon General's report issued Tuesday, which determined that non-smokers who were exposed to second-hand smoke at home or work had a 25 percent to 30 percent increased risk of developing heart disease and a 20 percent to 30 percent increased risk for lung cancer.
No risk-free exposure
"Science has proven that there is no risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke. Let me say that again: There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke," Dr Richard H. Carmona, US Surgeon General, said in prepared remarks. "Only smoke-free environments effectively protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke exposure in indoor spaces," he said.
Paul G. Billings, the American Lung Association's vice president of national policy and advocacy, added: "Essentially, the Surgeon General slammed the book on any scientific debate on second-hand smoke. The evidence is clear. Second-hand smoke is harmful and needs to be eliminated."
The sweeping report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, was based on the latest research on the topic. The last comprehensive review of second-hand smoke by the US Department of Health and Human Services came out in 1986; that report concluded that second-hand smoke causes lung cancer in non-smokers.
Risks are well documented
The risks of second-hand smoke are well documented and include heart disease and lung cancer in non-smoking adults as well as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory problems, ear infections and asthma attacks in infants and children. Slightly more than 20 percent of children are exposed to second-hand smoke at home.
"Breathing second-hand smoke for even a short time can damage cells and set the cancer process in motion," Carmona said. "Brief exposure can have immediate harmful effects on blood and blood vessels, potentially increasing the risk of a heart attack. Second-hand smoke exposure can quickly irritate the lungs, or trigger an asthma attack. For some people, these rapid effects can be life-threatening. People who already have heart disease or respiratory conditions are at especially high risk," he added.
According to the report, nearly half of all non-smoking Americans are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke. In 2005, an estimated 3 000 adult non-smokers died from lung cancer as a result of exposure to second-hand smoke, 46 000 from coronary heart disease and 430 newborns from SIDS.
Second-hand smoke contains more than 50 carcinogens and is a known human carcinogen, the report said.
The report also found that living with a smoker increases a non-smoker's risk of lung cancer and heart disease by up to 30 percent. The evidence linking second-hand smoke and breast cancer, at this point, is only suggestive.
Not enough is being done
And while progress to control second-hand smoke has been made, it's not nearly enough, health officials said.
"The good news is that, unlike some public health hazards, second-hand smoke exposure is preventable," Carmona said. "A proven method exists for protecting non-smokers from the health risks associated with second-hand smoke exposure: Avoiding places where second-hand smoke is present," he said.
According to the report, comprehensive smoking bans such as those in New York City and Boston have not hurt the hospitality industry. Also, restricting smoking in the workplace not only reduces second-hand smoke but also reduces active smoking.
Such statements are likely to fuel legislative efforts to ban smoking indoors.
"The report is going to provide an additional tool and some very robust conclusions to support smoke-free laws and ordinances across the US," Billings said. "If anything, the momentum and the pace of passing smoke-free air laws will increase as a result of the report," he said.
"Those are very powerful conclusions, because those are some of the arguments the foes of eliminating second-hand smoke try to use," Billings continued. "I think this report will rebut those kinds of claims once and for all," he added.
In the meantime, the Surgeon General has these tips on protecting yourself and your loved ones from the effects of second-hand smoke:
- Make your home and car smoke-free.
- Ask people not to smoke around you or your children.
- Make sure that your children's day-care centre or school is smoke-free.
- Patronise restaurants and other businesses that are smoke-free.
- Teach children to stay away from second-hand smoke.
- Avoid second-hand smoke exposure especially if you or your children have respiratory conditions, if you have heart disease, or if you are pregnant. – (HealthDayNews)
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