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"Mind if I smoke?" You bet I do!

It's not easy to answer in the affirmative when a smoker asks that question. However, when one considers the mounting evidence for the dangers of "passive smoking" (i.e., breathing other people's tobacco smoke), "yes" is the right answer, however phrased.

It is estimated that some 50,000 deaths of nonsmokers occur each year in this country as the direct result of exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. Two-thirds of these are from heart disease; the rest come from cancers of various kinds, with lung cancer accounting for about one-tenth as many deaths as those from heart disease.

Premature death is not the only hazard, however. The children of smoking parents are of particular concern, especially if the mother smokes. Lung problems such as chronic cough, asthma, pneumonia, and other lung infections are much more common in these kids.

It has been assumed by many that the smoker has the greatest risk from his own smoke because the smoke he inhales is more concentrated than exhaled fumes. It is not the exhaled smoke, however, that poses the greatest risk to the innocent bystander. Rather, it is the smoke that comes off the end of the cigarette--known as "sidestream smoke"--which contains more carcinogenic substances than that which the smoker inhales.

Although both the exhaled and sidestream fumes are usually greatly diluted when inhaled by others, the finer particles that are contained in both tend to settle more deeply in the lungs. Thus, they are expelled less easily. If not expelled, they are absorbed into the bloodstream and the lymphatic system, thereby reaching the organs where damage finally occurs.

In addition to the particulate matter, carbon monoxide is found in both kinds of smoke. By interfering with the red blood cells' normal transport of oxygen to the heart muscle and other tissues, carbon monoxide--and the subsequent lack of oxygen--seriously impair lung function.

It is true that the percentage of smokers in the United States has decreased markedly in the past couple of decades. Unfortunately, the decrease of women smokers has been far less than that of men. About 30 percent of Americans still smoke, and if you live with or work near a smoker, it would benefit you to take precautions:

.In the home, try to keep smoke-free the areas in which you and other nonsmokers spend most of your time--kitchen, bedrooms, and the family room--by asking the smoker to confine his or her smoking to a restricted area.

In the workplace, ask your employer to institute a program of protection for nonsmokers by declaring work areas if not the entire premises) nonsmoking and by helping smokers to quit smoking. A bonus for those who quit, as well as information about smoking-cessation programs, may be helpful.

In the community, work for local laws that will guarantee a smoke-free environment in public buildings, including restaurants. The local chapters of the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association can provide you with useful materials.

We all have a right to a smoke-free environment, especially in the working place. Given the statistics quoted above, smokers may have the right to smoke, but certainly not to subject nonsmokers to their smoke.
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Title Annotation:dangers of passive smoking
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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