|Action on Smoking and Health
A National Legal-Action Antismoking Organization
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Excerpts from: A Jubilant Barroom Toast to Smoke-Free Air
By JANE E. BRODY www.nytimes.com
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's proposal to extend New York's smoking ban to all offices, bars and restaurants even pool halls, bowling alleys and bingo parlors would not make the city the first to have such a law. California and dozens of towns and counties already have similar laws.
But with all eyes on New York, a new law would send a strong message to the many cities and states that lag on this important health measure.
Extending the ban is clearly win-win. While the mayor's intent is to protect the health of workers like waiters and bartenders forced to inhale secondhand smoke for an entire workday, it is quite likely that customers will give such a law its widest welcome.
Aesthetics aside, worker health is and should be the mayor's main concern, with as many as a million workers in the city still unprotected.
When the airlines banned smoking, it was not because of pressure from passengers; it was the liability from flight attendants forced to smoke passively through their shifts that made air travel delightfully smoke free. The fears that smokers would rebel were never realized.
A complete ban on smoking in restaurants and bars has proved not just practical, but also good for business.
As Elena Deutsch, director of tobacco control for the American Cancer Society, pointed out, "Revenue has grown in California bars and restaurants every year since this health measure was enacted in 1998." Now, she added, "almost three-quarters of bar patrons in California like their air smoke free."
Likewise, in a survey by a coalition of antismoking advocates more than 70 percent of New Yorkers said they would go out to bars as much or more often if smoking was banned.
The New York State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene estimates that closing the loopholes in the city's smoke-free law can save thousands of lives. Bar and restaurant workers are 50 percent more likely to have lung cancer than other workers, even after taking their own smoking habits into account. In an eight-hour shift, bartenders inhale the amount of cancer-causing chemicals from sidestream smoke that they would receive from smoking more than half a pack of cigarettes.
Nationwide, secondhand smoke causes an estimated 65,000 deaths a year, mostly from heart disease. The various gases and particles in secondhand smoke can harm the heart and lungs of anyone who inhales them. Among those chemicals are arsenic, benzene, cadmium, chromium, formaldehyde, lead, 2-nitropropane, polonium 210 and vinyl chloride.
The gas phase of secondhand smoke contains at least 16 known or probable carcinogens. The particulate phase contains nicotine, as well as known or suspected carcinogens for which there is no safe level for human exposure. Neither phase can be effectively removed by mechanical filters, electrostatic precipitators or ion generators.
The Environmental Protection Agency classifies secondhand smoke as a "Group A" carcinogen, along with arsenic, asbestos, benzene, radon and 10 other toxic substances.
In other words, the only safe smoke is no smoke.
Just a half-hour of passive smoking can increase a nonsmoker's risk of heart disease. Passive smoking diminishes the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood and the ability of heart muscle to use the oxygen it receives.
It causes thickening of arterial walls, especially the arteries that feed the heart and the brain. It raises the heart rate, lowers the level of protective H.D.L.-cholesterol, increases free-radical damage to heart muscle cells and increases the stickiness of blood platelets, fostering the formation of clots that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco have cited studies indicating that passive smoking causes 30,000 to 60,000 fatal heart attacks in the United States each year and three times that number of nonfatal heart malfunctions, making passive smoking the third leading preventable cause of death, after active smoking and alcohol.
All told, heart disease deaths from passive smoking rival deaths from traffic accidents in this country each year.
Then there is the cancer risk to consider: an estimated 3,000 deaths a year from lung cancer alone among nonsmokers who are forced to inhale the smoke of others.
A multicenter study published eight years ago in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that nonsmoking women who had ever been exposed in their adult lives to smoke at home faced a 24 percent increased risk of developing lung cancer. Those exposed in occupational settings faced a 39 percent increase, and those exposed in social settings a 50 percent increase.
At highest risk were women who had also been exposed to the smoke in childhood. Women who had been exposed to tobacco smoke by parents, husbands, friends and co-workers had a 325 percent increased risk of lung cancer.
In 1995, a principal scientist with the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company wrote to convince me that nonsmoking women married to smokers were different from those married to nonsmokers, and these differences, he maintained, could account for their higher risk of lung cancer.The scientist sent a published study reporting that women married to smokers consumed fewer health-protective nutrients and more alcohol, factors that could indeed result in a higher risk.
But it would be hard to make the same argument for nonsmoking workers, who rarely choose their colleagues. Further, nonsmokers who work with smokers are highly likely to face a far greater risk than spouses, who rarely share a smoke-filled environment for eight or more hours a day five days a week.
Parents who smoke place their children at greatly increased risk of respiratory infections like colds and pneumonia, as well as ear infections and asthma. Children who grow up in a smoking household are quite likely to suffer lasting health effects, including higher blood pressure readings and heart rates than their counterparts in nonsmoking homes.
In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to avoid taking children anyplace where smoking occurs.
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