Surgeon General: No Safe Level for Secondhand Smoke
Article date: June 27, 2006
Report Bolsters Clean Indoor Air Efforts
Secondhand smoke is dangerous in any amount, and the only way to protect people from that danger is to eliminate indoor smoking. So says a new report by US Surgeon General Richard Carmona. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke was released Tuesday.
"The health effects of secondhand smoke exposure are more pervasive than we previously thought," said Carmona, vice admiral of the US 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."
Cancer experts praised Carmona's report, which adds weight to efforts to get clean indoor air laws passed throughout the country.
"Today's report should end any lingering debate over the importance of enacting comprehensive smoke-free laws," said John Seffrin PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society. "The report confirms that the only way to protect people from secondhand smoke is to eliminate their exposure."
Secondhand Smoke Causes Lung Cancer, Other Diseases
Medical experts and public health officials have long known that secondhand smoke poses a danger to non-smokers. A Surgeon General's report in 1986 found that secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer, and also concluded that merely separating smokers from nonsmokers doesn't eliminate the threat from secondhand smoke.
The new report pulls together evidence from the numerous studies that have been done on secondhand smoke since that time. It includes in-depth analyses of the toxic effects of secondhand smoke, including how it causes cancer, damages the respiratory tract, and harms the circulatory system. The report also examines the impact of secondhand smoke on children, and looks at exposure levels in the United States.
In terms of cancer, the report confirms that secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer and that nonsmokers who live with a smoker have a 20%-30% higher risk of lung cancer because of exposure to secondhand smoke.
The report says there isn't enough evidence to say for sure that secondhand smoke causes breast cancer, but existing evidence is "suggestive."
Other major conclusions:
- Secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in adults and children who do not smoke.
- Exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate negative effects on the heart, and causes heart disease and lung cancer.
- Secondhand smoke can worsen asthma in children, and puts them at risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory infections, and ear problems.
- Scientific evidence shows that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Millions of American adults and children are still exposed to secondhand smoke at home and in the workplace.
- Having separate smoking and nonsmoking areas, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate secondhand smoke exposure. Prohibiting smoking in indoor spaces does.
Prevention the Key
"The good news is that, unlike some public health hazards, secondhand smoke exposure is easily prevented," Carmona said. "Smoke-free indoor environments are proven, simple approaches that prevent exposure and harm."
Seffrin noted that momentum to enact smoke-free laws is growing. At least 5 countries have already passed smoke-free laws, with more set to follow. And similar laws are becoming more common in the United States.
"In 1964, there were no smoke-free laws in existence," he said. "Today, 16 states, Washington, DC, and more than 2,200 communities across the country have passed such laws, covering 43% of the American population."
Taking action against secondhand smoke and tobacco use is critical to public health, Seffrin stressed.
"In the US, secondhand smoke is estimated to cause 35,000 to 45,000 deaths each year from heart disease and 3,000 more deaths from lung cancer among nonsmokers," he said. "Tobacco is the most preventable cause of death in this country and accounts for at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths. Today's news reminds all of us of the great duty we have to protect the health of all Americans."
Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff
ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases.
Thank you for your feedback.