Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)

About second hand smoke

The original Surgeon General's report, followed by this first "hazard" warning on cigarette packages, the subsequent "danger" warning on cigarette packages, the removal of cigarette advertising from television and the inclusion of the "danger" warning in cigarette advertising, were all "blows" of sorts for the tobacco industry. They were, however, blows that the cigarette industry could successfully weather because they were all directed against the smoker himself.

The anti-smoking forces' latest tack, however - on the passive smoking issue - is quite a different matter.... Nearly six out of ten believe that smoking is hazardous to the nonsmokers' health, up sharply over the last four years. More than two-thirds of nonsmokers believe it; nearly half of all smokers believe it.

This we see as the most dangerous development to the viability of the tobacco industry that has yet occurred.

Secret study conducted for US Tobacco Institute in 19781

Nonsmokers breathe in the same toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke as the smokers do, with similar, although smaller effects. The smoke nonsmokers breathe is known as secondhand smoke and the process of breathing secondhand smoke is called involuntary smoking or passive smoking.

The smoke contains thousands of toxic chemicals, including benzene, cyanide, cadmium, lead, radioactive polonium, benzo(a)pyrene, ammonia, carbon monoxide, and nicotine. These chemicals cause many diseases.

Secondhand smoke (or ETS) is a very serious form of indoor air pollution. For example, in the US secondhand smoke causes about 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year, compared to less than 100 lung cancer deaths per year from traditional forms of outdoor air pollution.

Secondhand smoke also causes and aggravates asthma and other breathing problems, particularly in children. It is also an important cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

While most discussion about passive smoking have concentrated on lung cancer and breathing, the effects on heart disease are more important. The chemicals in secondhand smoke poison the heart muscle, interfere with the ability of blood vessels to adjust themselves to control blood pressure and flow, increase the buildup of blockages of blood vessels (which lead to heart attacks), and make blood stickier. The net effect is that there are about 15 times more deaths from heart disease caused by passive smoking – 35,000-62,000 deaths annually in the US – as lung cancer.

While the tobacco industry continues to claim that the evidence that passive smoking causes disease – particularly lung cancer – is controversial, every independent authoritative scientific body that has examined the evidence has concluded that passive smoking causes many diseases. Moreover, the evidence that passive smoking causes disease is not new. The first studies linking passive smoking with breathing problems in children and lung cancer in adults 20 years or more ago and the studies linking passive smoking and heart disease are over 10 years old.

The tobacco industry attacks the evidence that passive smoking is dangerous because it knows that smokers are reluctant to poison others. Smoke free workplaces, public places, and homes help smokers cut down or stop, which reduces tobacco company sales and profits.

Tobacco Industry Interference with World Health Organization's Research on Passive Smoke and Cancer

  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Press Release (7 April 2000)
  • Tobacco industry efforts subverting International Agency for Research on Cancer's second-hand smoke study by Elisa K Ong and Stanton A Glantz. The Lancet Interactive, Volume 355, Number 9211(8 April 2000).
  • Multicenter Case-Control Study of Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Lung Cancer in Europe Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 90, No. 19, October 7, 1998 [PDF]

(1) Roper Organization (1978). A Study of Public Attitudes Towards Cigarette Smoking and the Tobacco Industry. Washington DC, Roper Organization.

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