Second-hand smoke is ‘indisputably’ a killer: report

Article by Carly Weeks
published in The Vancouver Sun on Wednesday, June 28, 2006

OTTAWA – Second-hand smoke is a definite killer and the only way to protect people is to ban smoking indoors and eliminate smoking sections because they don’t work, urges a new report from the United states surgeon general.

Canadians must see the report as a wakeup call to stop smoking in their homes, where others, including children, may be breathing in toxic fumes, said Neil Collishaw, research director at Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, a national health organization.

“There’s no such thing as safe levels of exposure to second-hand smoke,” he said. “It should be a great deal of concern to all kinds of people about the millions of people who continue to be exposed to second-hand smoke at home.”

There is “indisputable” scientific evidence that second-hand smoke kills and is a more pervasive threat than previously thought, surgeon General Richard H. Carmona said in a statement. Non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke increase the risk of developing heart disease by up to 30 per cent and lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent, the report says.

There is no safe or risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke and even brief exposure can be harmful, the report concludes.

“The scientific evidence is now indisputable: second-hand smoke is not a mere annoyance. It is a serious health hazard that can lead to disease and premature death in children and non-smoking adults,” Carmona said in a statement.

The surgeon general is one of the world’s leading medical authorities and Canadians need to take his warning about second-hand smoke seriously, Collishaw said.

“The implications are very broad,” he said. “I think it’s time that Canadians recognize that second-hand smoke is a hazard in all its forms, in all amounts.”

The last surgeon general’s report to focus on the dangers of second-hand smoke came in 1986. The new study is a much-needed update because “involuntary smoking” remains a persistent public health problem in the U.S. and elsewhere, the report says.

The only way to protect people from the effects of second-hand smoke is to eliminate it from indoor spaces completely, the surgeon general concluded.

“Separating smokers from non-smokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposures of non-smokers to second-hand smoke,” says the report.

In addition to cancer and heart disease, second-hand smoke also increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome among babies.

In Canada, second-hand smoke is ”killing”” federal prison guards and the government must ban tobacco from penitentiaries to protect the lives of workers, Collishaw and the union representing prison guards urged Tuesday.

While several provinces have created indoor smoking bans in all work places, the federal government doesn’t have a similar law, which leaves thousands of federal workers vulnerable to the damaging effect of second-hand smoke, Collishaw said.

It’s a major problem at federal prisons, where inmates often smoke in their cells and prison guards are forced to breathe in the toxic fumes, said Sylvain Martel, national president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

“They’re killing us. That’s the bottom line. Is it fair to us? Are we second-class citizens?” Martel said Tuesday.

“The bottom line is we have correctional officers that are exposed to second-hand smoke. That is the problem.”

According to federal policy, prisoners are not supposed to smoke inside jails, but without a strong law, it’s difficult for corrections workers to enforce that policy and stop prisoners from lighting up in their cells, said Howard page, a correctional officer at Millhaven Institution in Kingston, Ont.

He’s been battling the Correctional Service of Canada because he said he has a right to work in a smoke-free environment.

“We’re exposed on a daily basis,” he said.

“They’re well aware of the fact second-hand smoke is still in my work place.”

CanWest News Service

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