HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Friday, June 30, 2006

Second Hand Smoke

The U.S. Surgeon GeneralRichard H. Carmona issued a report earlier this week that concludes that there exists no safe level of second-hand smoke.  The report is entitled, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General.   In sum, it states that nonsmokers exposed to scondahnd smoke at home or work increase their risk of developing heart disease and lung cancer by as much as 30 percent.  The report further finds that even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause immediate harm and that the only way to protect nonsmokers is to eliminate smoking indoors. 

A news release from the Department of Health and Human Services states, 

“The health effects of secondhand smoke exposure are more pervasive than we previously thought,” said Surgeon General Carmona, vice admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service. “The scientific evidence is now indisputable: secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance. It is a serious health hazard that can lead to disease and premature death in children and nonsmoking adults.” Secondhand smoke contains more than 50 cancer-causing chemicals, and is itself a known human carcinogen. Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke inhale many of the same toxins as smokers. Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and increases risk for heart disease and lung cancer, the report says. In addition, the report notes that because the bodies of infants and children are still developing, they are especially vulnerable to the poisons in secondhand smoke.

“The good news is that, unlike some public health hazards, secondhand smoke exposure is easily prevented,” Surgeon General Carmona said. “Smoke-free indoor environments are proven, simple approaches that prevent exposure and harm.” The report finds that even the most sophisticated ventilation systems cannot completely eliminate secondhand smoke exposure and that only smoke-free environments afford full protection. . . . .

“Our progress over the past 20 years in clearing the air of tobacco smoke is a major public health success story,” Surgeon General Carmona said. “We have averted many thousands of cases of disease and early death and saved millions of dollars in health care costs.” He emphasized, however, that sustained efforts are required to protect the more than 126 million Americans who continue to be regularly exposed to secondhand smoke in the home, at work, and in enclosed public spaces.

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