Surgeon General Warns of Secondhand Smoke
Tuesday, June 27, 2006; 6:05 PM
WASHINGTON -- Breathing any amount of someone else's tobacco smoke harms nonsmokers, the surgeon general declared Tuesday _ a strong condemnation of secondhand smoke that is sure to fuel nationwide efforts to ban smoking in public.
"The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard," said U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona.
More than 126 million nonsmoking Americans are regularly exposed to smokers' fumes _ what Carmona termed "involuntary smoking" _ and tens of thousands die each year as a result, concludes the 670-page study. It cites "overwhelming scientific evidence" that secondhand smoke causes heart disease, lung cancer and a list of other illnesses.
The report calls for completely smoke-free buildings and public places, saying that separate smoking sections and ventilation systems don't fully protect nonsmokers. Seventeen states and more than 400 towns, cities and counties have passed strong no-smoking laws.
But public smoking bans don't reach inside private homes, where just over one in five children breathes their parents' smoke _ and youngsters' still developing bodies are especially vulnerable. Secondhand smoke puts children at risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, as well as bronchitis, pneumonia, worsening asthma attacks, poor lung growth and ear infections, the report found.
Carmona implored parents who can't kick the habit to smoke outdoors, never in a house or car with a child. Opening a window to let the smoke out won't protect them.
"Stay away from smokers," he urged everyone else.
Even a few minutes around drifting smoke is enough to spark an asthma attack, make blood more prone to clot, damage heart arteries and begin the kind of cell damage that over time can lead to cancer, he said.
Repeatedly questioned about how the Bush administration would implement his findings, Carmona would only pledge to publicize the report in hopes of encouraging anti-smoking advocacy. Passing anti-smoking laws is up to Congress and state and local governments, he said.
"My job is to make sure we keep a light on this thing," he said.
Still, public health advocates said the report should accelerate an already growing movement toward more smoke-free workplaces.
"This could be the most influential surgeon general's report in 15 years," said Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "The message to governments is: The only way to protect your citizens is comprehensive smoke-free laws."