Regulating Secondhand Smoke

Lung cancer screening with CT scans -- for which the jury is still out for most smokers and former smokers -- isn't even on the radar for people who are non-smokers. That translates into no early signs, no early symptoms and a poor prognosis once diagnosed.

As pointed out in the article, there is a long list of distinguished organizations that all agree on one thing: Secondhand smoke causes cancer in people.

The list includes, among others, the Surgeon General, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The American Cancer Society certainly believes that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer, and has worked hard for the passage of strong smoke-free laws nationwide.

New Laws Clearing the Air

Today, 21 states, the District of Columbia and more than 2,500 communities have smoke-free laws in place.

That means that 52.9 percent of the population in the United States is now protected from secondhand smoke.

According to my American Cancer Society colleagues, all top 10 tourist destinations in the United States have some form of smoke-free law.

The impact of smoke-free laws has been studied extensively, especially in New York -- which had the guts to go smoke-free in the face of significant opposition, and made it work. New York serves as an example to any community in this country that thinks people won't support a decision to create a healthy indoor environment.

By many measures -- including economic ones -- the decision by New York to go smoke-free was a huge success.

In fact, as a result, the New York State Department of Health estimates that there are 140,000 fewer smokers in New York today than when the regulation was enacted in 2003.

A "Right" to Smoke?

In June 2006, the Surgeon General produced a report that provided overwhelming evidence that secondhand smoke is a danger to our health.

Beyond causing lung cancer, the Surgeon General noted that secondhand smoke "has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and causes coronary heart disease and lung cancer."

Despite all that we know, there are still 126 million Americans who are non-smokers (many of whom are children) who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke.

And so I conclude where I started:

What is it that our elected leaders don't understand?

Why do they continue to pay homage to those who say it is their "right" to smoke?

Why are they so afraid that economies will suffer, when the evidence says that not only will businesses survive, but many have found their revenues increased?

It bears repeating that there are a lot of angry folks out there who agree with former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who said, "The right of smokers to smoke ends where their behavior affects the health and well-being of others."

There is no "right" to smoke except in your own private space.

There is no "right" to harm me and my family.

There is no "right" to risk the lives of your workers.

To me, the conclusion of this report is clear: No one should have to pay with their lives for the right to earn a living.

It is time for many parts of this country to take this message seriously, and do the right thing.

Dr. Len Lichtenfeld is deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. You can view the full blog by clicking here.

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