Smoke Signals: Secondhand
Monday October 09 12:34 PM EDT
By Thomas D. Schram
MONDAY, Oct. 9 (HealthSCOUT)
-- That faint whiff of tobacco
smoke that drifts into your airspace in a restaurant, on the street
or at work may be more than just an annoyance.
It can mean more visits to the doctor, more need for medication
and more time off from work, says new research.
That's the finding of a study of more than 5,000 Hong Kong police
officers who never smoked but were exposed to passive smoke
on the job.
Results of the study, conducted by researchers in the community
medicine department at the University of Hong Kong, appeared
in a recent issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community
After exposure to secondhand smoke for more than a year,
nonsmoking male officers were twice as likely to take time
off and more than 30 percent more likely to need treatment
for respiratory problems than their colleagues working in a
smoke-free environment, the study says.
The results held true, it says, even after accounting for levels
of passive smoking at home.
Results for women officers were similar, but not enough women
participated in the study to draw conclusions, the researchers say.
The findings renewed an old debate between pro- and anti-smoking
forces over whether "environmental tobacco smoke" is really a
cause for alarm for nonsmokers.
"I don't think that there's a question that for the past five years
10 years even that passive smoke, environmental tobacco smoke,
secondhand smoke -- call it what you will -- is a major health hazard,"
says John Banzhaff, executive director of Action on Smoking and
The latest study is just another piece of evidence that secondhand
smoke is a real danger, he says.
"Originally, employers were worried about the health costs for
smoking employees," Banzhaff says. "But now we're also seeing
that secondhand tobacco smoke, in addition to being annoying
and an irritation and possibly leading to things like heart attacks
and strokes, does cause short-term medical illnesses."
But a spokesman for the tobacco industry says that, while some
evidence of harmful effects of secondhand smoke exists, there
is no scientific proof.
"There are many public health organizations that have determined
that secondhand smoke is the cause of various diseases, [but]
we believe that the scientific substantiation for that conclusion is
lacking," says Seth Moskowitz, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds
"There is evidence," he says. "But we don't believe that the evidence
supports the conclusion that secondhand smoke leads to any disease
in any otherwise healthy nonsmokers."
Ventilation, common courtesy
The solution to the problem of secondhand smoke is simple,
he says: ventilation and common courtesy.
"We think secondhand cigarette smoke can be annoying to non-
smokers and that nonsmokers have every right to avoid being
exposed to secondhand smoke if they so choose," Moskowitz
says. "But we don't think there need to be smoking bans in order
to accommodate the wishes of smokers and nonsmokers."
"Common courtesy and common sense, along with adequate
ventilation and filtration, can go a long way in allowing smokers
to smoke while not bothering nonsmokers," he says.
Ron Todd, director of tobacco control for the American Cancer
Society, agrees that isolation is part of the solution. But he also
says there's no question that passive smoke is a real health problem.
"I think the industry likes to try to keep the issue alive, but it's
pretty well accepted by scientists who are unrelated to the industry
that environmental tobacco smoke does pose a risk and should
be restricted," Todd says.
"Our belief is that fortunately it's an easy pollutant to get rid of
simply by restricting smokers to separately ventilated rooms or
requiring people to go outside in a designated smoking area,"
Or, as Banzhaff says, "To put it in the very simplest terms: Like
certain other conduct, smoking should be confined to consenting
What To Do
Passive smoking has been shown to exacerbate breathing problems
in children with asthma. Be especially careful to keep children in a
For a look at the activities of a national anti-smoking organization,
including links to smoking-related news of the day, check out
Action on Smoking and Health online. [ http://ash.org/ ]
Original Source (no longer available):
posted 11 Jan 2001 17:04
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