Surgeon general declares secondhand smoke threat
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Smoking Ban Only Way to End Secondhand Threat, U.S. Report Says
June 27 (Bloomberg) -- Cigarettes, cigars and pipes should be banned in all public places because that would be the only cheap and effective way to protect Americans from secondhand smoke, the U.S. surgeon general said.
Secondhand smoke may still be linked to 46,000 deaths a year from heart disease and 3,000 from lung cancer, even though the number of Americans exposed to it has fallen since 1986 by more than half, to about 126 million people, according to a government report released today.
Research shows creating smoking sections in restaurants and ventilating indoor air doesn't eliminate the threat, the report said. About a dozen U.S. states already bar smoking in offices and restaurants, and lawmakers in other states are considering laws. Congress should also get involved in the issue, said Surgeon General Richard Carmona.
``Science has shown that in the first few minutes that you are exposed, there is an effect,'' Carmona said during a Washington news conference today. ``Breathing secondhand smoke for even a short time can damage cells, and set the cancer process in motion. It can have immediate harmful effects on blood and blood vessels.''
The surgeon general's report seeks to build on work begun in 1986 when C. Everett Koop issued the first report to conclude that involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke causes disease. About 21 percent of Americans smoke, or 44.5 million people.
California and 11 other states require smoke-free workplaces for all workers, including restaurant and bar employees, said Bonnie Herzog, an analyst with Citigroup Inc. in New York, in a report released yesterday. More states may pass similar legislation in 2006, with Arizona and Ohio likely to have voter referendums on smoking bans, she wrote.
22 Million Children
Carmona's report also found that about 22 million children are exposed at home, leading to about 430 cases last year of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. The report cited research that tested blood samples to determine how many people were affected by secondhand smoke.
More than a dozen studies in the last 15 years have linked SIDS and secondhand smoke, including one that showed a 40 percent higher risk, said researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health in Baltimore, who reviewed the research in 1999.
Philip Morris, the cigarette-making unit of Altria Group Inc., has posted a statement on its Web site, saying that public health officials have linked smoking to children's deaths and illnesses including asthma and ear infections.
``Particular care should be exercised where children are concerned, and adults should avoid smoking around them,'' said the Web site statement from Philip MorrisUSA, which has brands including Marlboro cigarettes.
Carmona, the U.S. government's top health educator for consumers, has more direct advice for parents who can't immediately quit smoking and still want to protect their children.
``If you've got to smoke while you are trying to quit, go outside of your house,'' Carmona said. ``Make your home a smoke- free environment for your children.''
Last Updated: June 27, 2006 15:30 EDT