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New CDC Study Shows Kids Exposed to Secondhand Tobacco Smoke at Alarming Rates

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
January 31, 2003

Washington, D.C. — CDC's new report shows that America's kids (ages 3-11) are being exposed to secondhand smoke at levels more than twice those of adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals has startling data for both adult smokers and for policy-makers. This report should be a wake-up call for parents who smoke because adult smoking not only jeopardizes kids by creating the wrong role models, but also puts them at risk by exposing them to the proven dangers of secondhand smoke. To better protect children, it is imperative that smoking parents avoid smoking around their children. For policy-makers concerned about protecting kids, this report shows how important it is to enact measures that will reduce smoking among adults such as medical coverage for smoking cessation therapies, higher cigarette taxes, smoke-free workplace policies that help adult smokers to quit, and fully funded programs aimed both at preventing youth smoking and encouraging adults to quit.

The strong new evidence in this study highlights the importance of laws to protect non-smokers rights to breathe clean air for which there has been strong public support and growing public demand. In last November's election, 71 percent of Florida voters supported a ban on smoking in restaurants and other indoor workplaces. Last year, Delaware became the second state after California to enact comprehensive protections. Numerous cities, towns and counties across the United States have done so as well, including Boston, Dallas and New York City. While the study shows that these, and other, policies have been successful in reducing overall exposure to secondhand smoke by 75% for adults, 55% for adolescents and 59% for children since the a previous report of data from 1991-1994, the gap of protection between children and adults has widened significantly over the same time period – leaving 3-11 year olds with more than twice the exposure to secondhand smoke as adults aged 20 and above.

Secondhand smoke is a known cause of lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other illnesses. It is responsible for thousands of deaths each year in America. Secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals and 69 known carcinogens including formaldehyde, cyanide, arsenic, carbon monoxide, methane, benzene, and radioactive polonium 210. CDC has estimated that at least 38,000 non-smokers die every year because of the health effects of secondhand smoke.

The new report measures chemicals or their metabolites (breakdown products) in blood and urine samples from selected participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine, levels are measured to track non-smokers exposure to secondhand smoke.