no smoking

Clearing the Air: EPA Secondhand Smoke Research Making a Difference

Reposted from EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership

By Bob Perciasepe

Today, no-smoking policies have become so widespread that we hardly think twice when we’re enjoying a meal at a restaurant in a smoke-free environment.

Millions of Americans benefit from these policies, which have significantly reduced exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in public spaces. A few recent studies show us that further reducing exposure can save the U.S. $10 billion annually in healthcare costs and wages lost to sick leave.

Secondhand smoke, passive smoking, side stream smoke, or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) all refer to the same thing: the smoke exhaled by a smoker or given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar.  Whatever you call it, thanks to EPA scientists we know that exposure to such smoke threatens our health—and is especially risky for those most vulnerable like older Americans and our kids.

Through their research, our scientists released a landmark health assessment in 1992, The Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders, that found that secondhand smoke leads to serious health complications, and even premature death. The assessment concluded that infants and young children were especially sensitive to secondhand smoke exposure, leading to more respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia, harming lower lung function, and worsening symptoms of asthma.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Watching Television

By Aaron Ferster

One of the few television shows I watch regularly is Mad Men. I have to admit I find the characters thoroughly entertaining and the time period the show is set in an interesting study.

Image of a smoldering cigarette.

No smoking: It All Starts with Science.

Of course, that’s what the producers have in mind, using the transition from the 1950s to the 1960s to dramatic effect. As we now know, big changes are looming just ahead.

One example that always catches my attention: the smoking.

Holy cow! There’s barely a single scene in any episode that does not include someone lighting up. At work, in the car, at home, on the train, even around the main character’s kids, there is always someone enjoying a smoke. I sometimes feel like I have to open the window to make it through the show without getting a sore throat.

Today, we all enjoy smoke-free work, travel, and public spaces. That is, in no small part, thanks to EPA science.

This year marks the 20th anniversary since the release of Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders, an EPA health assessment that concluded that tobacco smoke not only presented risks to the health of smokers but also to those around them. “Based on the weight of available scientific evidence, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded that widespread exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) in the United States presents a serious and substantial public health impact.”

That conclusion sparked a revolution in thinking about secondhand smoke, leading to no smoking policies that are now ubiquitous—protecting millions of people in public spaces across the country.

To help spread the word about how such improvements really do, “all start with science,” we highlighted the connection linking EPA science with no smoking policies in our latest newsletter, and included a “Science Matters to Kids” companion article specifically for students. (You can download a pdf of the article to share with kids, at: http://1.usa.gov/IJ6xUD).

I think I prefer my own job to any of those 1960s ad executives portrayed on Mad Men, and like millions of others, I’m thankful that I work in an environment where I don’t have to open the window just to stay healthy.

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the editor of the EPA blog “It All Starts with Science,” and a frequent contributor.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.