Oh For…

Secondhand smoke classified as lethal

Surgeon general says there’s no safe level

By Miriah Meyer and Jeremy Manier
Tribune staff reporters
Published June 27, 2006, 10:48 PM CDT

No amount of air filtration can eliminate the health hazards of secondhand smoke, according to a new U.S. surgeon general’s report that could challenge a controversial loophole in Chicago’s impending ban on smoking in public places.

The report surveyed 20 years of scientific evidence about the effects of secondhand smoke and found that even trace amounts cause immediate and damaging effects in non-smokers. That led Surgeon General Richard Carmona to conclude there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

“The debate is over as far as I’m concerned,” said Carmona. “Based on the science I wouldn’t allow anyone in my family to stand in a room with someone smoking.”

Some 126 million non-smokers in the U.S. are exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes and workplaces, putting them at a 20 percent to 30 percent greater risk for lung cancer and heart disease, according to the report. It attributed an estimated 50,000 deaths each year to secondhand smoke exposure, 430 of them babies who succumb to sudden infant death syndrome.

The new report comes 20 years after the surgeon general concluded for the first time that exposure to tobacco smoke causes lung cancer and other ailments in non-smokers. Since then, science has expanded the list of diseases and conditions resulting from exposure to include SIDS, developmental effects in children, heart disease and the risk of other cancers.

The findings have “tremendous public policy implications” and should give ammunition to cities and states trying to enact smoking bans, said Stanton Glantz, director of the University of California at San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, who helped draft the paper.

“Tremendous public policy implications.” Yes, I bet it does.

Tell me, Dr. Carmona, if you wouldn’t allow anyone in your family to stand in a room with someone smoking, is that true for a closet? A living room? A ballroom? A warehouse? Where do you draw the line? “Oh my God! Someone in Kentucky is smoking a cigarette!”

If cigarette smoke is “lethal,” then why are my parents at age 71 – smokers until about five years ago – still alive? Why am I? After all, they smoked around me from birth until I moved out of the house. Same for my sister. My brother still smokes – and that means he’s still living, too. My grandmother on my father’s side smoked until she died – in her eighties.

What you see here is the initial salvo of the last battle over property rights. It’s the final step down the slippery slope that started quite a while back.

“Sandra Starr, vice chairwoman of the Princeton Regional Health Commission . . ., said there is no ‘slippery slope’ toward a total ban on smoking in public places. ‘The commission’s overriding concern,’ she said, ‘is access to the machines by minors.'” — New York Times, Sept. 5, 1993, § 1, at 52.

“Last month, the Princeton Regional Health Commission took a bold step to protect its citizens by enacting a ban on smoking in all public places of accommodation, including restaurants and taverns. . . . In doing so, Princeton has paved the way for other municipalities to institute similar bans . . . .”— The Record (Bergen County), July 12, 2000, at L7.

(Both quotes courtesy of Eugene Volokh.) What we’re headed for is a government mandated ban on smoking in your own home – and the excuse will be (as it usually is) “It’s for the CHILDREN!

And then what else will the .gov decide that you are unqualified to decide on your own?

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