Dec. 12 2002
Washington, D.C. — Yesterday's unanimous decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a 1993 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on the dangers of secondhand smoke is a triumph of sound science and public health over the special interests of the tobacco industry. The ruling decisively affirms the EPA's authority to make scientific judgments and issue them without political, legal, or industry interference. The same science that led EPA to conclude that secondhand tobacco smoke is a carcinogen responsible for more than 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year should spur local and state governments to protect the public's right to breathe clean air by enacting comprehensive smoke-free policies in all indoor workplaces.
For adults, the EPA report concluded that, "ETS [environmental tobacco smoke] is a human lung carcinogen, responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually in U.S. non-smokers" and the report found that secondhand smoke has a statistically significant effect on the respiratory health (e.g., reduced lung function) of non-smoking adults. For children, the report concluded that, "ETS exposure is causally associated with an increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections (LRIs) such as bronchitis and pneumonia; increased prevalence of fluid in the middle ear, symptoms of upper respiratory tract irritation, and a small but significant reduction in lung function, and; additional episodes and increased severity of symptoms in children of asthma, with ETS exposure a risk factor for new cases of asthma in children who have not previously displayed symptoms." While it is well established that secondhand smoke also causes many other diseases and health problems, the EPA report was "limited to an analysis of respiratory effects, primarily lung cancer in non-smoking adults and non-cancer respiratory illness in children."
What was true when EPA issued its report is even more firmly established today: secondhand smoke causes lung cancer, heart disease, and numerous other serious health problems among non-smokers and kills thousands of people every year. Studies have shown that secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals and 69 known carcinogens including formaldehyde, cyanide, arsenic, carbon monoxide, methane, benzene, and radioactive polonium 210. A report issued earlier this year by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization concluded, "Nonsmokers are exposed to the same carcinogens as active smokers. Even the typical levels of passive exposure have been shown to cause lung cancer" among people who have never smoked.
Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence about the health hazards posed by secondhand smoke, the tobacco industry has aggressively sought to discredit this science and opposed smoke-free policies across the country. If the tobacco companies are serious about wanting to reduce the harm caused by smoking, they should immediately stop these efforts, including dropping any appeals to the ruling in the EPA case. Philip Morris last month spent millions of dollars to place an insert in major metropolitan newspapers that, among other things, states, "The public should be guided by the conclusions of public health officials regarding the health effects of secondhand smoke." Philip Morris and the other tobacco companies should stop challenging these conclusions.
The public strongly supports the right to breathe clean air and there has been growing public demand for protection from secondhand smoke. Just yesterday, Boston and New York City leaders reached historic agreements that will place them among the largest metropolitan areas in the nation to have enacted comprehensive workplace smoking bans. In November's election, 71 percent of Florida voters supported a ban on smoking in restaurants and other indoor workplaces. Earlier this year, Delaware became the second state after California to enact comprehensive protections, and numerous cities, towns and counties across the United States have done so as well. Other cities that are currently considering such measures, including Chicago, Dallas, Albuquerque and Denver, should act quickly to protect their citizens. All of us have the right to breathe clean air and should be protected from the scientifically proven dangers of secondhand smoke.