Dangers of Second-Hand Smoke

Published in the Gazette November 16, 2003


            Asthma.  Heart disease.  Lung cancer.  You knew that smokers are more likely to be afflicted with these diseases than nonsmokers.  But did you know that tobacco smoke can pose health risks to nonsmokers, too, causing them to suffer these diseases in great numbers?

"Approximately 500 Iowans die each year from disease caused by secondhand smoke," points out Bill Roach, Executive Officer of the Iowa Attorney Generalís Office.  That's more than die from accidents, AIDS, suicide, homicide, or illegal drugs. 

In fact, secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in this country after primary smoking and alcohol abuse.  Tobacco smoke's deadly effect on nonsmokers has become evident in the past decade as research by such organizations as the U.S. Surgeon General's Office and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine has been done.

            To pull together as much of this information as possible for those wanting to learn about and work on this important issue, Tom Miller, Iowa's Attorney General, commissioned the Report on Secondhand Smoke, which can be found online at www.iowaattorneygeneral.org

            Iowans visiting the site can find out that nonsmokers are exposed to more secondhand tobacco smoke than we may think:  even having dinner in a non-smoking section of a restaurant is the same as smoking a cigarette and a half, while living in a pack-a-day smoker's home for 24 hours is equivalent to smoking 3 cigarettes.  So secondhand smoke is certainly an issue that affects us all.

            Whatís in secondhand smoke that makes it so deadly?  According to the attorney generalís report, "secondhand smoke is a complex mixture of nearly 5,000 chemical compounds, including over 50 that are known carcinogens."  Did you know that when you have coffee with that chain-smoking friend of yours, you are inhaling ammonia, arsenic, cyanide, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide as well as nicotine and tar?

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Heath Administration has also found that sidestream smoke, which curls off the end of your friendís cigarette, has, in fact, more carcinogens than the smoke your friend inhales through the cigarette's filter.

As you might guess, secondhand smoke poses especially great health risks to children.  Children who live with smokers have more frequent colds and chronic respiratory symptoms.  Secondhand smoke not only causes children to develop asthma, but can worsen the symptoms of asthma.   And high levels of exposure to secondhand smoke in childhood and adolescence accounts for up to 17 percent of adult lung cancer.

            Although an ordinance prohibiting smoking in restaurants was struck down by the Iowa Supreme Court, all is not lost for advocates of clean indoor air.  In fact, having to  use grass-roots methods to spread the news about secondhand smoke can have its advantages.  "If we had a choice between just getting an ordinance, and having to argue about it for a year, I'd prefer having the argument," says Roach.  "Because thatís how you really change people."




To learn more about secondhand smoke issues and find out how you can advocate for clean indoor air, attend the Iowa Attorney General's Conference on Secondhand Smoke.

            November 19, 2003

            9:30 a.m. Ė 4 p.m.

            Collins Plaza Hotel

There is no registration fee, but registration is required.  Lunch is provided.

Email registration:  broach@ag.state.ia.us

Phone registration:  Bill Roach  515-281-5536

Fax registration:  Attention Bill Roach  515-281-4209


Back to Jane's Mind and Body page