Smoking is no longer seen as cool and sophisticated. It has taken fifty years since the Surgeon General first came out and said that smoking may cause cancer. Since that initial study, although debated at times, the general consensus is that smoking does cause cancer as well as a plethora of other long term and very serious diseases in which many will lead to death. Yet, Millions of Americans still smoke. Those that are driven to smoke and therefore, have not taken into account, how it will surely kill them, have also failed to grasp how their irresponsible behavior will effect their co workers, friends and especially their family members who live with them. The evidence on second hand smoke is not as extensive as that of primary smoking, but the verdict is out and there can be no confusion as to the effects, both long term and short term, which help to decrease the health and well being of those who are subject to its crippling effects. After some debate and confusion of the public, brought on by initially erroneous health studies and the assurance of tobacco companies that the dangers of second hand smoke do not exist, the public, both the American and much of the rest of the world, have come to the realization that smoking in all of its forms, either primary or through second hand smoke, is disadvantageous to one’s health and should be avoided at all costs.
Second hand smoke is seen as so very dangerous, because of both its long term and short term effects upon the people who are subject to its cancer causing agents. There is a large amount of scientific research to back up these claims and which has prompted many law makers in America’s most populated cities, as well as cities all over Europe, to ban smoking in public places. Second hand smoke is created by both the burning end of the cigarette as well as what the smoker exhales. “Some of the major long term diseases which are directly related to second hand smoking are heart disease, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and various other lung ailments which are only aggravated by the individual’s introduction to second hand smoke.” (www.who.int) Studies show that those who are introduced to an atmosphere in which second hand smoke is present, has a 30% increased risk of lung cancer when a family member smokes in the home and an 18% risk when a co workers smokes and who exhales in the vicinity of the individual. (Meyers, 2006. pg. 118) This has caused an increased awareness towards the dangers of second hand smoke in the work place, restaurants as well as an increased sense of responsibility and shame for parents who smoke inside of the home since the negative effects of second smoke upon adults, are magnified when a child is introduced to second hand smoke.
It is these long term effects that have helped to introduce smoking bans all across the country. Not only does second hand smoke increase the risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases, but also, the individual who is introduced to second hand smoke, has an increased change of asthma, an intensification of their allergies within minutes of being introduced to not only the smoke, but the smell of cigarettes upon a smoker’s clothing. It is also recommended that women who are pregnant or who are nursing stay away from cigarette smoke as it will increase the chances of a low birth weight in a child as well as an increase risk in sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS. Also, when the child enters school, he or she may find an increased difficulty in the increase of his learning difficulties for many years while he is in school.
When one hears about the negative effects of second hand smoke, the individual usually thinks that these effects are can only be long term and therefore, only sustained and continued inhaling of cigarette smoke will produce adverse effects and that vigilance in the here and now is not necessary. These assumptions are understandable but no less erroneous. “Tobacco smoke is an irritant and those will allergies can experience immediate and severe attacks within minutes of being exposed to second hand smoke.” (Meyers, 2006 pg. 129) This can even be true for people who have never been allergic to anything in their life and which have never been plagued with allergies. Tobacco smoke as well as the smell of tobacco, has been known to be a strong stimulant for such allergic attacks. Even though many of these short term effects leave the body once exposure to the smoke has ceased, getting in the habit of surrounding oneself with the tobacco smoke from others, will lead to long term effects. What is also dangerous, is the fact that what constitutes “repeat exposure,” enough in which long term effects will appear in the individual, is different for every person and therefore, anyone who cares for their health, need to start immediately, to stay away from all aspects of second hand smoke, either in the smell of the smoke or in the actual smoke itself. Each person’s resilience to tobacco smoke and its many cancer causing agents are different for each individual. Therefore, the individual does not know when he will become one of the 60,000 non smokers who die from heart disease or be one of the more than 1.2 million people who visit the doctor’s office as a result of their exposure to second hand smoke.(Johnson, 2006 pg 67) What is recommended is to avoid second hand smoke at all times.
The chief reason for this recommendation by the surgeon general is that every year, an estimated 53,000 non smokers die from the effects of second hand smoke every year.” (www.cdc.gov) This constitutes the third highest rate of preventable deaths in the United States every year. The word preventable is the key to understanding the dangers of second hand smoke and how one can prevent such diseases from appearing in one’s body. The first step in prevention is knowledge. The knowledge and research of second hand smoke and its effects are relatively new compared to how long the public has been aware of the adverse effects that smoking has on the smoker himself. Not until the early 1990’s, some forty years after the Surgeon General came out with his warning in the dangers of primary smoking, was there significant evidence in which modern studies can build upon. One of the first major studies was the 1992 Journal of the American Medical Association in which they published a review of the current evidence available on second hand smoke. The study concluded that between 30,000 and 40,000 people died every year from second hand smoke in the mid 1980’s and it was promised that number would rise if the general public was not made aware immediately about the dangers of second hand smoke. Also, another major finding of the study was that non smokers, who lived with smokers, were in direct danger of heart disease by as much as 25%. Other studies, including the Helena Study a few years later, “estimate the risk is upwards of 60% for those non smokers to obtain diseases most common in smokers, if that person lives with a smoker.” (Johnson, 2006 pg. 228) Despite the fact that both studies and more studies to come, will disagree on the exact increased risk that a non smoker has of acquiring these diseases, they all agree on the urgency of those who smoke and are unwilling to quit, to at least smoke outside in the prevention of infecting their loves ones within the home, of the diseases which they will surely acquire.
There have been continued studies concerning the negative effects of second hand smoking. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, gave their findings about second hand smoke: “There is sufficient evidence that involuntary smoking causes lung cancer in humans. Also, involuntary smoking exposure to secondhand smoke is a carcinogenic to humans.” (Osborne, 2005 pg. 12) Specifically, a carcinogen is commonly referred to as “a cancer causing agent.” There are hundreds if not thousands of documented separate carcinogens within one cigarette. There exists within the side stream smoke of one cigarette, over four thousand chemicals in which 200 are poisonous and 60 cause cancer.”(Pearson, 2005 pg 2 ) Even though moderate or occasional exposure to second hand smoke presents a measurable risk of cancer to non smokers, enough of a risk that it will behoove every non smoker who cares about their health, to abstain from even the slightest and most infrequent exposure to cigarette smoke or even the smell of tobacco on a co worker, friend or relative. Only in recent years, as the scientific date on second hand smoke is still not as extensive as many health organizers wish it to be, come out with a study in May of 2006 in which the issue of second smoke was at the forefront of their research. The United States government ‘s CDC or Center for Disease Control stated: “The health effects of secondhand smoke exposure are more pervasive than we previously thought. The scientific evidence is now indisputable: secondhand smoke is no a mere annoyance. It is a serious health hazard that can lead to disease and premature death in children and nonsmoking adults.” (www.cdc.gov) Hopefully now, the debate that second hand smokes is disadvantageous to any one who values their health. The reasons in which the CDC needed to make such a strong statement about something that most people took as fact, was due to the past efforts by the tobacco companies as well as fallible research studies which did not accurately address the serious effect of second smoke.
One such study was the 1993 Osteen Decision in which it was discovered that those that were testifying for the tobacco industries, had been paid as much as $52,000 for their favorable testimony against the perceived beliefs that second hand smoke was harmful. Phillip Morris in 1997, filed a lawsuit, requesting that this decision be vacated since the EPA or Environmental Protection Agency, in its ruling, had ignored scientific studies which refuted the claim that second hand smoke was dangerous. In 1998, United States District Judge William Osteen ruled in favor of the tobacco company but their victory was short lives as the same judge, William Osteen, upheld a law, pressed into the courtrooms by the EPA which restricted cigarettes and other various tobacco products that young people had access to obtain. This was seen as a stepping stone in the legal battles that concerned members of the public were going to levy against the tobacco companies. In the late 1990’s, the major tobacco companies faced with multi billion dollar lawsuits towards litigants who had acquired cancer from smoking their products. This had become a serious threat to the tobacco industry as a whole and for the sake of their business, any negative press concerning the added dangers of second hand smoke, needed to be, the companies believed, stopped. This led to the confusion of the public as the tobacco companies fought these claims that second hand smoke was dangerous. The British American Tobacco Company stated: “Our view of the science is that ETS exposure is associated with various short term health impacts, such as exacerbating symptoms in asthmatics and respiratory illnesses in children. The science on ETS and chronic diseases, such as lung cancer and heart disease, is in our view not definitive and at most suggests that if there is a risk from ETS exposure, it is too small to measure with any certainty.” (www.bat.com)
However, they were not the only companies who did business in America and around the world that refuted the claims of the Surgeon General. JT International Tobacco in their response, refuted the claims that second hand smoke was injurious to one’s health. “However, we do not believe that the claim that ETS is a cause of lung cancer, heart disease and chronic pulmonary diseases in non-smokers have been convincingly demonstrated or that a reliable causal link between ETS exposure and chronic diseases has been established.” (www.jti.com) Other companies like RJ Reynolds and Phillip Morris, agreed with the various public health officials and were willing to comply with their recommendations. “We also believe that the conclusions of public health officials concerning environmental tobacco smoke are sufficient to warrant measures that regulate smoking in public places.” (www.philipmorrisusa.com) The latter was a victory for the general public as in the past, it took such companies decades to even admit that primary smoking had adverse effects upon its consumers.
One sign that the public is taking heed of these findings is the ban on smoking in not only public places but in what used to be considered the last bastions for the smoker: the bars and pubs all across America and Europe. This is most important as 80% of the side stream smoke, or the smoke that comes off of the tip of the cigarette, is the cause of all the short and long term effects of smoke on the non smoking individual. The other 20% come in the form of main team smoke or the smoke that is exhaled from the smoker’s mouth after taking a puff of the cigarettes. Both forms are harmful to the non smoker and it serves as a combination punch against one’s desire to lead a healthy lifestyle, when they are forced For those who wanted to enjoy the social setting of a bar but who did not smoke out of a conscious effort to retain their healthy lifestyle. Now, after “New York City, Seattle and even Dublin and Paris have banned smoking in not only bars but all public places, those cities as well as more cities to come, have understood that those who do not smoke, as they have made a conscious decision to lead a healthy lifestyle, want those decision to be respected by those in their immediate vicinity who have failed to make the same decision.” (Pearson, 2005 pg 2) Let us hope that other cities and countries will soon follow.
Even though it took many decades for the tobacco companies to agree that their product was the cause of hundreds of thousands of deaths, the public was not so patient about securing the findings which stated that second hand smoke can be just as deadly to those who have chosen not to smoke. The long and short term effects are without question. What is a source of debate is when exactly these effects will be seen in each person’s body as each individual has different tolerances to tobacco smoke. Therefore, it behooves every individual to abstain from any place or any person in which it is likely that one will come in contact with second hand smoke; either mean stream or side stream smoke as both can be just as deadly and in each individual cigarette, there exists over four thousand chemicals. Some of these chemicals are poisonous and many of the others are known to cause cancer. Every individual, and especially every smoker, needs to be careful about who they smoke in front of and the places in which one inhabits where there is known to be second hand smoke. Everywhere that second hand smoke is present, so too are its deadly effects upon smokers and non smokers alike.