Smoke-Free Laws Reduce Exposure of Secondhand Smoking

Each year in the United States, an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths and 46,000 heart disease deaths are attributed to exposure to secondhand smoke. According to the 2006 U.S. Surgeon General’s report The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Both the Surgeon General and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) have concluded that eliminating smoking from all indoor areas is the only way to fully protect people from exposure.

Policies that prohibit smoking in all indoor areas

  • Eliminate secondhand smoke exposure.
  • Improve indoor air quality.
  • Reduce negative health outcomes among nonsmokers.
  • Decrease cigarette consumption.
  • Encourage smokers to quit.
  • Change social norms regarding the acceptability of smoking.

In terms of specific health risks, the 2009 IOM report Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Cardiovascular Effects: Making Sense of the Evidence concluded that secondhand smoke exposure can cause a heart attack, even brief exposure to secondhand smoke could plausibly trigger a heart attack and smoke-free policies result in fewer heart attacks.

Current evidence from more than a dozen studies in cities, states, and countries indicates that smoke-free policies yield immediate cardiovascular benefits. Jurisdictions that have implemented smoke-free policies have reported average reductions in heart attack hospitalizations of 8% to 17%. In 2010, Kansas, Michigan, and Wisconsin passed laws that made workplaces and public places smoke-free. The new laws represent clear and measurable progress toward saving lives and protecting people in these states.

By December 2010, a total of 25 states and the District of Columbia had comprehensive smoke-free laws that prohibit smoking in workplaces, restaurants, bars, and other public places. However, 88 million nonsmoking Americans are still exposed to secondhand smoke, and many areas of the country do not have smoke-free laws.

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