Surgeon general takes aim at secondhand smoke

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted July 17, 2006

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A June 27 Surgeon General's report, "The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke," found that even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause harm. The only way to protect nonsmokers from such exposure is to eliminate smoking indoors, according to the report.

Secondhand smoke can cause heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmokers and is a known cause of sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory problems, ear infections and asthma attacks in infants and children, according to the report.

"The health effects of secondhand smoke exposure are more pervasive than we previously thought," said Surgeon General Richard Carmona, MD, MPH. "The good news is that ... secondhand smoke exposure is easily prevented. ... Smoke-free indoor environments are proven, simple approaches that prevent exposure and harm."

The findings define the known health risks of secondhand smoke, said AMA President-elect Ron Davis, MD. "This report should be a wake-up call for lawmakers to enact comprehensive clean indoor air laws that prohibit smoking in all indoor public places and workplaces," he said.

Thus far, 16 states, Washington, D.C., and more than 2,200 communities across the country have passed smoke-free laws covering 43% of the population, said John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society.

And there has been progress in shielding nonsmokers, according to the report. Levels of cotinine -- a biological marker for secondhand smoke exposure -- measured in nonsmokers have fallen by 70% since the late 1980s, and the proportion of nonsmokers with detectable cotinine levels has been halved, from 88% for the period 1988-91 down to 43% for the period 2001-02.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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