We all deserve to breathe air free of dangerous secondhand tobacco smoke where we work, live and play. Ten years ago, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a report on the health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke, which forever ended the debate over whether secondhand smoke was harmful or not with this succinct statement: There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Today, 28 states and the District of Columbia have passed comprehensive laws to protect their citizens from secondhand smoke. Now it's time for the remaining 22 states to do the same.
While it may be called "secondhand" smoke, the health effects of those exposed to it are truly firsthand and all-too-real. The Surgeon General's report listed the many scientifically proven health risks related to breathing in someone else's smoke:
Secondhand smoke causes heart and lung disease, including lung cancer, the leading cancer killer in America.
Breathing secondhand smoke is a known cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Children who breathe secondhand smoke are also more likely to have lung problems, ear infections and worse asthma from being around smoke.
Exposure to secondhand smoke can make existing health conditions such as heart disease and asthma worse.
You may think secondhand smoke is a minor health risk, but consider this—every year over 41,000 people in the U.S. die from secondhand smoke exposure. Children, pregnant women, older people, and people with heart or breathing problems like asthma or COPD are at greatest risk, but even healthy people should avoid secondhand smoke.
How do you avoid secondhand smoke? The Surgeon General's report also made clear several myths about avoiding secondhand smoke. Creating "no smoking" sections simply doesn't work. Ventilation or filtering the air doesn't protect people from secondhand smoke either. The truth is the only way to protect people from secondhand smoke is to make all workplaces, public spaces, restaurants, bars and casinos smokefree.
June 27 marks the 10th anniversary of this historic report. While many states adopted comprehensive smokefree laws in the five years after the report, progress has all-but stalled with only one state, North Dakota, adopting a smokefree law in the past five years. We can't wait 10 more years for the other 22 states to protect their citizens—not with 41,000 lives lost, and $5.6 billion in economic costs spent, each year.
All Americans deserve the chance to live a healthy life, and breathing smokefree air is an important part of it. The American Lung Association continues to lead the fight to pass comprehensive smokefree laws, because we know that the only way to protect everyone from exposure to secondhand smoke is by making all indoor spaces smokefree. All workplaces, public spaces, restaurants, bars and casinos should be protected with smokefree laws. Indoor smoking should also be avoided in homes and cars—places where children are at particular risk of exposure.
You can join us in calling for all communities and states to swiftly pass comprehensive smokefree laws and policies, and the federal government must act to protect Americans living in public and subsidized housing. Visit Lung.org/smokefree to learn more about smokefree laws and policies, and how our country is doing in making all 50 states smokefree. We've known the solution to death and illness from secondhand smoke for more than a decade. Now is the time to protect everyone, especially our children, as the health of families and communities can no longer wait.