Although the tobacco companies vehemently disagree, most people can see a common-sense relationship between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, commonly called secondhand smoke, and increased risk of illness.
Now, the U.S. Surgeon General, Richard Carmona, has set the record straight. Secondhand smoke is a major public health hazard which can lead to increased risks for heart disease and lung cancer.
“The scientific evidence is now indisputable: secondhand 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 last week.
But he said that, unlike some other health risks, this one was easily preventable. Simply ban smoking in all public places and in the workplace.
That sounds easy enough, but how many counties, cities, and towns have actually banned smoking or limited it in public buildings? A growing number have, but still not that many compared to the number of places that still allow people to light up almost anywhere.
Ron Davis, president-elect of the American Medical Association applauded the Surgeon General’s report. He said that secondhand smoke is a leading cause of preventable death among adults in the US. He claims it causes 53,000 deaths per year. But he added the disease and death caused by secondhand smoke is completely preventable.
One of the biggest concerns is that parents who smoke at home are slowly killing their own children. Secondhand smoke in the home cannot easily be legislated against. Smoking remains, and should remain, a legal activity for adults. And what adults do in the privacy of their own homes should not be the government’s business.
However, where children are concerned, sometimes the government does have to get involved. Children’s welfare officials sometimes are forced to remove a child from an unsafe home, even over parental objections. Usually, it is for child abuse or neglect.
But, although smoking parents may not be beating their children or neglecting them, they are administering a form of child abuse if they smoke in their homes around their children.
The same is true for smoking in vehicles where children are present. Even with the windows cracked, secondhand smoke builds up in the car.
Fortunately, most parents today understand that smoking is an addiction that they do not want their kids to develop. They go outside the home to smoke. Some never smoke in cars when their children are with them. Others may have designated smoking areas inside the home.
But there are still a significant number of parents who seem to be oblivious to the ill effects that their smoking has on their children. They smoke in the same room as their kids, with windows closed.
They also smoke at the dining table, in those restaurants that still allow smoking, with their kids present. I’ve seen it innumerable times while dining out: kids trying to eat with smoke billowing around their little heads. It’s more than discomforting; it’s dangerous.
“Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and increases risk for heart disease and lung cancer,” the Surgeon General’s report stated.
It went on to say that the only way to prevent the risk is to ban smoking outright in all public places, not just inside buildings. I would suggest also making it a crime to smoke cigarettes within 100 feet of a minor child, inside or out, including in private homes.
It might seem to be a drastic step, and some would cry more government interference in private lives. But where kids are concerned, such interference is warranted.