Friday, October 23, 2009

Smoking Bans Cut Heart Attack Risk

Every year, more than 400,000 Americans die of illnesses related to their smoking, and so do thousands of non-smokers who have been exposed to secondhand smoke—a combination of smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar or pipe and the smoke exhaled by the smoker. Non-smokers who breathe in secondhand smoke take in the same toxic chemicals that smokers do, including more than 50 substances that are known to cause cancer in humans or animals. The more secondhand smoke a person is exposed to, the higher the level of these harmful chemicals in their body. For adults, the health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke include respiratory tract infections, lung cancer, nasal sinus cancer and heart disease.

In 1971, the Surgeon General proposed a federal smoking ban in public places and released a report the next year declaring secondhand smoke a health risk. In 1973, Arizona became the first state to restrict smoking in public places and today, 24 states have enacted statewide bans on smoking in all enclosed public places, including bars and restaurants. And experts say these bans are really paying off.

After analyzing a number of recent studies on the effects of smoking bans, investigators at the U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that smoke-free policies can reduce the risk of heart attack by up to 47 percent and significantly reduce the likelihood of other heart problems. They also found evidence that even a brief exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger a heart attack. “We did conclude a cause-and-effect relationship exists between heart disease and secondhand smoke exposure,” said Dr. Lynn R. Goldman, a professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and chairwoman of the IOM committee. She noted that sufficient evidence also exists to support a cause-and-effect relationship “between exposure to secondhand smoke and heart attacks or acute coronary events.”

The committee’s findings echo those of the Surgeon General in 2006. His report also concluded that secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in children and nonsmoking adults and declared that the only way to fully protect non-smokers from exposure to secondhand smoke indoors is to prevent all smoking in that indoor space or building. Separating smokers from non-smokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot keep non-smokers from being exposed to secondhand smoke. Unfortunately, as of June 2009, 27 states still did not have comprehensive smoking bans in place; meaning that one in four U.S. indoor workers is still not protected by a complete smoke-free workplace policy and nearly three in five Americans do not live under comprehensive state or local laws that make workplaces, restaurants, and bars smoke-free, according to the CDC.

Danny McGoldrick, vice president for research at Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, hopes this new report will help get more states and localities to pass smoke-free legislation. “If policy makers are paying attention to the science, and this is one more piece of evidence that says ‘you can actually save people’s lives, save health-care costs,’ then those states that have yet to act should do so,” he said. “How many dramatic findings do you need before you are finally going to act to protect everybody’s right to breathe clean air?”

Until the time everyone is protected against secondhand smoke, there are important steps you can take to lower your risk and protect your family from exposure. The CDC suggests the following:

Don’t smoke or allow smoking indoors or in a vehicle, at anytime.
Visit only those restaurants and businesses that are 100 percent smoke-free. Separate “no smoking” sections DO NOT completely protect you from secondhand smoke. Neither does filtering the air or opening a window.
Take special precautions to ensure that family members who have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease avoid secondhand smoke exposure.
Encourage your community leaders to implement policies that make all indoor workplaces and public places, including restaurants, bars, and casinos, smoke-free.

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