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Millions Still Exposed to Secondhand Smoke in US

There Is No Safe Level of Secondhand Smoke

WASHINGTON, DC -- July 14, 2006 -- There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the latest report by the U.S. Surgeon General. Even brief contacts with tobacco smoke can cause serious harm.

Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke increase their chances of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent and of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent, the report states. Secondhand smoke is also a known cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory problems, ear infections, and childhood asthma. Because their bodies are still growing, children and infants are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke.

"The health effects of secondhand smoke exposure are more pervasive than we previously thought," said Surgeon General Richard Carmona (News Release, June 27, 2006). "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-Causing Chemicals in Secondhand Smoke

Also known as passive or environmental tobacco smoke, secondhand smoke consists of smoke that is exhaled by the smoker (mainstream smoke) as well as smoke that is released between puffs of a cigarette, cigar or pipe (sidestream smoke). Both sidestream and mainstream tobacco smoke contain at least 60 carcinogens, including formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride and arsenic. Secondhand smoke also contains six developmental toxic substances, including nicotine and carbon monoxide (Environmental Tobacco Smoke, National Cancer Institute). According to the Surgeon General's report, the concentrations of many of these toxic chemicals are higher in secondhand smoke than in the smoke inhaled by smokers.

Exposure to Secondhand Smoke Is Common

Millions of Americans are still exposed to secondhand smoke. About 30 percent of workplaces in the United States are not smoke-free, according to the Surgeon General's report. Nearly 22 million children are exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes.

Some workplaces allow smoking, but try to minimize its effects. However, separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings are not effective in preventing exposure to secondhand smoke. Therefore, the Surgeon General recommends completely banning smoking from indoor spaces.

More About Secondhand Smoke and Smoking Cessation

The Surgeon General's report, Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, may be found on the Health and Human Resources web site. You will need Adobe Acrobat to open the files containing the report. If you do not already have this software, you may download a free copy from the Adobe web site.

See the tobacco resource section for more information about quitting smoking as well as about third hand smoke.

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