Jan. 29 2008
Washington, D.C. — On World Cancer Day, February 4, the International Union Against Cancer (UICC) is launching a new initiative that calls attention to the serious dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke and the need for effective action to protect the health of all nonsmokers.
This initiative provides an opportunity for nations around the world to commit themselves to protecting the health of their citizens by enacting laws requiring 100 percent smoke-free workplaces and public places. It also provides an important reminder to parents and others who smoke about the importance of not exposing children to secondhand smoke in homes and other locations where smoking is still legally permitted.
This initiative comes at a pivotal moment when understanding of the dangers of secondhand smoke and the political will to address the problem are converging. Public health authorities around the world have concluded that secondhand smoke is a scientifically proven cause of serious diseases and premature death in both children and non-smoking adults. Secondhand smoke contains 4,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and at least 69 that are known to cause cancer.
Secondhand smoke is a proven cause of lung cancer and heart disease in adults and of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), low birth weight, acute respiratory infections, ear infections and asthma attacks in infants and children.
The World Health Organization international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, commits nations to taking effective action to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke. Standards adopted by the treaty’s governing body last year make it clear that only 100 percent smoke-free laws that apply to all workplaces and public places meet the treaty’s requirements.
These standards state that other approaches, such as separate smoking sections and rooms or ventilation systems, are not effective; there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke; and all people, including workers, should be protected from secondhand smoke. Appropriately, a growing number of countries, regions and cities around the world are adopting strong smoke-free laws.
So far this year, France, Turkey, several German states and the city of Bangkok, Thailand have done so. Other countries that have previously taken action include: Bermuda, Bhutan, England, France, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, Uruguay and Wales.
Most Canadian provinces/territories and Australian states/territories have also enacted such laws. In the United States, 22 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, as well as hundreds of local governments, have adopted smoke-free laws that include restaurants and bars, providing protection to more than half the U.S. population.
World Cancer Day is also an important reminder of the huge and growing toll that tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke take on global health. Tobacco use already claims five million lives a year worldwide. That number is projected to double in the coming decades, with more than 70 percent of these deaths in developing nations. Altogether, tobacco use is projected to kill one billion people worldwide this century unless urgent action is taken.
The good news is that this epidemic is entirely preventable if nations implement proven measures to reduce tobacco use, including smoke-free laws; higher tobacco taxes; bans on all tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorships; stronger, larger health warnings on tobacco products; and effective tobacco public education and cessation programs.
On World Cancer Day, we urge governments to take effective action to protect the health of their citizens.