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It may by secondhand, but it's still costly.

The tobacco industry appears to be mustering all its forces to combat the threat of a large tax increase on cigarettes. Proponents of the tax argue that the revenues thus generated will help to offset some of the enormous cost of treating the diseases caused by smoking.

The industry's response is that a marked reduction in cigarette sales will have a negative impact on the economy. If sales do decrease markedly, the tax will not bring in the anticipated revenues, and thousands of individuals who are now employed in the manufacture of cigarettes will be laid off. Moreover, they say, smokers are already paying their fair share of medical costs through the premiums they and/or their employers are paying for health insurance.

Such arguments are specious, of course. If the tax base is significantly reduced because the high tax has caused large numbers of smokers to quit, we will have saved countless lives and medical costs. As for the claim that smokers pay a fair share of insurance costs, the argument is patently absurb. All of us pay for the cost of treating tobacco-related disease, not only through excess insurance premiums but also through the deleterious effect that smoking has on nonsmokers.

In a recent press release, the American Academy of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery draws attention to the all-too-common sight of children riding in cars filled with the smoke of adult drivers or passengers. The Academy notes that children of parents who smoke half a pack a day or more are at double the risk of being hospitalized for respiratory illness.

Secondhand smoke (i.e., the smoke from a burning cigarette combined with the smoke exhaled by a smoker) contaminates the air with more than 4,000 different chemicals, 40 of which are known to cause cancer. This environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), as it is also known, is particularly dangerous to the very young, whose developing brains and lungs are susceptible to smoke damage. In older children, it can cause infection of the respiratory tract and ears, according to the Academy.

Increasingly, we hear of the alarming prevalence of childhood asthma--much of it aggravated by ETS. Sinusitis, rhinitis, cystic fibrosis, and chronic respiratory problems (such as cough and postnasal drip) are likewise aggravated by ETS.
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Title Annotation:secondhand smoke
Publication:Medical Update
Date:May 1, 1993
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