California Identifies Secondhand Smoke as a Toxic Air Contaminant

SACRAMENTO, California, January 27, 2006 (ENS) - Secondhand tobacco smoke causes an average 68 percent increase in breast cancer risk for women younger than 50, concludes a report by California Environmental Protection Agency staff that the state Air Resources Board voted Thursday to approve. Some women who have not reached menopause have as much as a 120 percent higher breast cancer risk than women who are not exposed to secondhand smoke.

On Wednesday, the Air Resources Board identified environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), or secondhand smoke, as a toxic air contaminant. In a related action the Board began the formal rulemaking process to designate environmental tobacco smoke as a toxic air contaminant that may cause and/or contribute to death or serious illness.

The Board's action to list secondhandsmoke as a toxic air contaminant is based on the report conducted by the state EPA's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA).

"This new report reaffirms many of the adverse health effects associated with ETS, especially in children who live in homes where smoking occurs," said Air Resources Board (ARB) Chairman Dr. Robert Sawyer. "It also raises new concerns about its effects on women. All this strongly supported the need for the Air Board to identify ETS as a serious health threat."

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Smoking tobacco exposes nonsmokers to serious health risks. (Photo courtesy UWO)
OEHHA staff found that exposure to ETS is directly associated with a variety of adverse health outcomes involving developmental, respiratory, carcinogenic, and cardiovascular effects. Some of these adverse health outcomes include heart disease; lung cancer; nasal sinus cancer; and breast cancer in younger, primarily premenopausal women.

Secondhand smoke is a complex mixture of compounds produced by burning of tobacco products. OEHHA says researchers have identified over 4,000 individual constituents in secondhand smoke, many of which are known or suspected human carcinogens and toxic agents.

"The ARB's action rightfully puts second-hand tobacco smoke in the same category as the most toxic automotive and industrial air pollutants," OEHHA Director Joan Denton said. "Californians, especially parents, would not willingly fill their homes with motor vehicle exhaust, and they should feel the same way about tobacco smoke."

In California each year, tobacco smoke is responsible for the release into the environment of 40 tons of nicotine, 365 tons of respirable particulate matter, and 1,900 tons of carbon monoxide, the ARB said. Secondhand smoke is also a source of other toxic air contaminants such as benzene, 1,3 butadiene, and arsenic.

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Fewer restaurants are permitting patrons to smoke on the premises. (Photo courtesy Work Smokefree)
For the report, the Air Resources Board evaluated exposures to secondhand smoke, while the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) assessed the health effects from these exposures.

The OEHHA evaluation clearly established links between exposure to secondhand smoke and adverse health effects, including some that affect children and infants such aspremature births, low birth-weight babies, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Other effects of secondhand smoke on children include the induction and exacerbation of asthma, and infections of the middle-ear and respiratory system.

The OEHHA evaluation also found links between secondhand smoke exposure and increased incidences of breast cancer in non-smoking, pre-menopausal women. The evidence to date for increased breast cancer in older postmenopausal women is considered inconclusive.

The report found epidemiological and biochemical evidence suggesting that exposure to secondhand smoke also may increase the risk of cervical cancer. Positive associations were observed in three of four case-control studies, the researchers said.

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Lighting up releases carcinogens and other toxics into the environment. (Photo courtesy Catch a Smoker)
Nonsmoking spouses of husbands and wives who smoke were found to be at greater risk of death from coronary heart disease, the OEHHA analysis found, although no risk percentages were given.

The data reviewed also suggests that the effects of secondhand may contribute to stroke, including atherosclerosis of the carotid and large arteries of the brain, the OEHHA said in the report.

Secondhand smoke had already been linked to adult incidences of lung and nasal sinus cancer, heart disease, eye and nasal irritation, and asthma.

"This is the most careful analysis of the data up to the most current time frame that exists anywhere," says Cheryl Healton, president of the American Legacy Foundation, a health group in Washington, DC. "It has gone substantially further than anything else and is carefully vetted through a group of very well respected scientists."

Now that environmental tobacco smoke is identified as a toxic air contaminant, the Air Resources Board must evaluate the need for action to reduce exposures. In this risk management step, the Board conducts an analysis that includes a review of measures already in place, available options and the costs for reducing the health risks from exposure to secondhand smoke.