Smoking is dangerous. This is not new news; but smoking is not just dangerous for the person with the cigarette. Breathing in the smoke that comes out of the end of a cigarette, as well as the smoke exhaled from the smoker, causes significant health risks. Secondhand smoke contains chemicals that are known to cause cancer. According to the Surgeon Generals Report, cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemical compounds; at least 250 of those chemicals are considered toxic, and 50 are cancer causing.1 These toxins are released into the air anytime someone lights up. The Surgeon General concluded that there is no safe exposure to secondhand smoke. That means, no matter how much, every time cigarette smoke is inhaled, the risk for cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, and premature death is dramatically increased. Every death caused by smoking is 100% preventable. Theres a lot of work to be done, but before we can start protecting our communities, we need to be aware of the problem, know why its harmful, and decide we can do something about it. First of all, no one is safe from the hazards of tobacco smoke. The chemicals in the smoke are paralyzing. They prevent our immune systems from working properly which increases our risks for illness and eventually premature death. Unfortunately the decision to smoke is not as personal a decision as it may initially seem. Kids are especially vulnerable to the dangers of tobacco smoke. Smoking inside a home creates endless exposure to the toxins of secondhand smoke. Family members of all ages can be harmed by exposure to tobacco smoke; however, children are most vulnerable to secondhand smoke because it has a severe impact on their developing lungs. They have also have a higher breathing rate which means they inhale more of the toxic secondhand smoke than the average adult. They are specifically at risk for developing more severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome, and more.2 The impact of secondhand smoke on adults is also very troubling. It greatly increases the risk for a heart attack, cancer, and other life-threatening diseases. Even limited exposure to secondhand smoke can dramatically affect the health status of community members, especially those who are already suffering from heart disease. Short exposures to tobacco smoke can have life-changing effects. The Surgeon General found that nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at the workplace increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent and lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.1 One area where secondhand smoke can be particularly dangerous is in the workplace. The workplace is a major source of exposure for adults; therefore, to protect workers from the potentially fatal effects of smoking, employers should work to reduce exposure to the lowest possible level. The only way to do this is to aim to eliminate it altogether in the workplace through smoke-free policies. Simply separating non-smoking employees from those who do smoke or ventilating the building does not successfully eliminate exposure even if the smoking occurs in designated smoking areas.1 This all relates to the Surgeon Generals findings that there is no safe exposure. Recent studies have shown that ventilation systems that are designed to filter air out of the building cannot prevent non-smokers from being negatively affected by secondhand smoke. In a study conducted in St. Louis, Missouri, by the Center for Tobacco Policy Research at Washington University and the Barnes-Jewish Hospital, it was found that bars and restaurants that allowed smoking had nicotine levels that were 31 times higher than those that did not. It also found that nicotine levels were actually higher in venues that had ventilation systems.3 Remember this next time someone gives you the choice between smoking and non-smoking. The choice is really no choice at all. At some point, we need to decide that the health of ourselves, our families, and our communities is a priority. A great place to start is working on the things we have control over -- the diseases and deaths we can prevent. Changes can be made on the individual, family, community, county, state, and even national level. Great ways to start protecting you and your family from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke on an individual level are to make your home and your car smoke-free zones. Smoking inside a home and in cars creates a very harmful environment for others living or riding in them, especially children. Children of non-smoking homes have less hospital admissions and absences from school on average each year.4 So take the next step and protect your family from the easily avoidable toxins. Make your home and car smoke-free for your family. To start making change happen at the community, state, and national level, you can support Clean Air campaigns that seek to reduce and eliminate secondhand exposure in indoor public places, as well as in some outdoor public areas, parks, and campuses. Many health benefits have resulted from smoke-free policies. The Institute of Medicine released a report in October 2009 that included eleven separate studies. Each found smoking bans led to decreases in heart attacks ranging from six to forty-seven percent.5 Furthermore, the American Heart Association studied and compared both North American and European communities that implemented smoke-free laws to those that did not. They found that seventeen percent fewer heart attacks occurred in communities with laws compared to communities without smoking bans within just one year of implementing smoke-free policies.6 In a study examining data collected yearly from 1999-2008, it was found that secondhand smoke exposure among nonsmokers had decreased more than 12% in 8 years. Despite great achievements, continued efforts are much needed as approximately 88 million nonsmokers in the United States are still exposed.7 With evidence supporting positive health benefits of policies that eliminate smoking in public places, one of the most positive actions you can take for your community is to push and support clean air policies in your area. The benefits far outweigh any costs associated with the policies. Limiting smoking in public areas is not a rights issue. It is a health issue. The evidence is clear. Secondhand smoke has been found to cause many illnesses and even death. The intent is not to point fingers at those who smoke; rather, it is to help people make the connection to how harmful secondhand smoke can be. Eliminating smoke from the air is not about taking away ones decision or right to smoke. It is about protecting the health of individuals, families, and entire communities. Lets eliminate secondhand smoke because your air is our air. Lets make it clean air! Sources 1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2006. 2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking & Tobacco Use: Secondhand Smoke (SHS) Fact Sheet. 7 September 2010. 3 Phillion, Lee. Secondhand Smoke: Ventilation Systems Are Not The Answer, Says New Study. Washington University School of Medicine: Barnes-Jewish Hospital Siteman Cancer Center. 8 September 2010. 4 American Cancer Society. Learn About Cancer: Secondhand Smoke. American Cancer Society. 2010. 5 Institute of Medicine. Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Cardiovascular Effects: Making Sense of the Evidence (Report Brief). October 2009. 6 American Heart Association. Heart attack rates drop after smoking bans, continue downward over time. National Cancer Institute and American Heart Association. 21 September 2009. 7 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) - Vital Signs: Nonsmokers Exposure to Secondhand Smoke United States, 1999-2008. 10 September 2010.