Secondhand smoke is bad for everybody

Melanie Evans

University students take home more than the stale smell of cigarettes from a visit to their favorite crowded smoky bar or coffee shop.
According to a study published Wednesday, secondhand smoke greatly increases the chance for heart disease to smokers and non-smokers alike. Published in the Journal of American Medical Association, the study found secondhand smoke greatly increases the rate at which arteries harden.
The process, called atherosclerosis, is considered the precursor to heart attacks and stroke.
University researchers co-authored the report, the largest study of its kind, which also determined the damage done to artery walls is “cumulative and irreversible.”
The report provides more ammunition to those seeking payback from the tobacco industry.
Minnesota is one of 38 states with lawsuits pending against the tobacco industry. Jury selection begins Tuesday for Minnesota’s lawsuit against the industry. The three previous state cases against tobacco companies — in Texas, Florida and Mississippi — have settled out of court.
According to the study, non-smokers subjected to secondhand smoke experience a 20 percent increase in the rate at which their artery walls stiffened compared to non-smokers who are not exposed.
Former smokers likewise exposed also experience atherosclerosis at an increased rate, said Paul McGovern, associate professor of epidemiology and co-author of the study.
The study also sends an important health message, particularly to younger smokers who believe they can smoke now and quit before serious health complications arise, McGovern said.
The results prove otherwise, he said. The damage, once done, is beyond repair.
“The time to quit is as early as possible,” McGovern said.
“The American Heart Association supports a ban on smoking in all public places,” said Dr. Brooks Edwards, president of the American Heart Association, Minnesota affiliate.
“As more data has amassed on the serious effects of secondhand smoke, Minnesota needs to immediately take aggressive steps to protect the health of its citizens,” he said.
According to the American Heart Association, 37 percent of non-smoking adults are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work.
Kristin Dungan quit smoking before she began working at Stub and Herbs Drinking and Eating Emporium a year ago. But she now joins her co-workers for a smoke during the three nightshifts she works as a waitress.
However, she said the smoke bothers her. The campus bar becomes crowded and smoky in the evenings. Mornings following her shift, she finds it’s harder to breathe, she said.
“I can tell I’ve been smoking and around smoke,” she said.
Wen-Chyi Soo, a fifth-year student, has smoked on and off for seven years.
During a normal day, she will smoke five to 10 cigarettes, but avoids the smoking section in public places because she dislikes the additional smoke and the smell.
The report doesn’t offer any new information, she said. But the results of Wednesday’s study still alarm her.
“It’s frightening. As far as the facts are concerned, people will quit when they are ready,” she said. “People know the facts.”
University buildings went smoke-free on June 9, 1993, the same year the Environmental Protection Agency officially declared secondhand smoke a known carcinogen.
Among the reasons listed by the Twin Cities Campus Assembly for the ban was the negative health effects of secondhand smoke on non-smokers.