The air we breathe

Published: Saturday, July 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 1, 2006 at 4:37 a.m.
Twenty years have passed since the surgeon general of the United States issued a report on the dangers of secondhand smoke. "It is now clear that disease risk due to the inhalation of tobacco smoke is not limited to the individual who is smoking, but can extend to those who inhale tobacco smoke emitted into the air," wrote then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in "The Health Consequences of Involuntary Smoking."
The current surgeon general, Richard H. Carmona, said Monday that nothing has changed except the evidence has only become stronger: "I am here to say the debate is over: The science is clear."
Koop's report in 1986 noted that the separation of smokers and nonsmokers "in the same room or in different rooms that share the same ventilation system may reduce (secondhand smoke) exposure, but will not eliminate exposure."
Carmona's report is more emphatic: "Separating smokers and nonsmokers in the same airspace is not effective, nor is air cleaning or a greater exchange of indoor with outdoor air. Additionally, having separately ventilated areas for smoking may not offer a satisfactory solution to reducing workplace exposures. Policies prohibiting smoking in the workplace have multiple benefits. Besides reducing exposure of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke, these policies reduce tobacco use by smokers and change public attitudes about tobacco use from acceptable to unacceptable." While attitudes toward smoking in stores, restaurants and workplaces have changed in the past two decades, Carmona said that exposure to secondhand smoke "remains an alarming public health hazard.
Approximately 60 percent of nonsmokers in the United States have biologic evidence of exposure to secondhand smoke."
The report has significant meaning for Florida, where voters bypassed the Legislature in 2002 and overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment banning smoking in restaurants and workplaces.
Dr. Michael Kasper, president of the American Cancer Society's Florida division, said the new report "confirms that Floridians made the right decision when we passed Amendment 6, dramatically improving Florida's Clean Indoor Air Act. To protect nonsmokers from the dangers of secondhand smoke, you have to completely eliminate smoking in indoor places."
The Cancer Society is working in conjunction with the American Lung Association and other health-related organizations to pass another amendment on the November ballot to greatly increase Florida's smoking-prevention programs. The proposed amendment would require the state to earmark 15 percent of Florida's settlement of a suit against Big Tobacco in 1997 that brings in about $400 million a year. The state spends just $1 million a year on tobacco-prevention programs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended Florida spend between $78.4 million and $221.3 million a year for an effective program. If passed, the amendment would require the Legislature to increase the amount going to the tobacco prevention program to at least $54 million. The petition gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, and the Florida Supreme Court approved the ballot language in March. It is officially Amendment 4.
The groups have combined their efforts as Floridians for Youth Tobacco Education. John Chaperon, chairman of the organization, said the new report on tobacco-related diseases "is yet another reminder of why it is so important for Florida to vigorously recommit to educating young people about the hazards of tobacco use."
Florida is one of just 14 states with a statewide smoking ban. Until the Legislature gutted the smoking-prevention program, it was the most successful in the nation. Smoking among teens showed dramatic drops.
With an amendment on the ballot to restore the state's tobacco prevention program, Florida can again show itself as a leader.
It's too bad the leadership has to come from voters instead of the people they elect to go to Tallahassee.

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