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Smoke-free way to go, report says

Friday, June 30, 2006

The U.S. Surgeon General has released conclusive evidence that any amount of secondhand smoke is a threat to the public's health.

Meredith Williams, program director for Putnam County Tobacco Prevention and Cessation, believes this new information is very positive for the health care industry.

"This is the first report that has come out in 20 years," Williams said. "It's almost icing on the cake when people hear it from the top source."

The Surgeon General's report "finds that even brief secondhand smoke exposure can cause immediate harm," according to a press release.

The report says that the only way to protect people who don't smoke from the dangerous chemicals in secondhand smoke is to completely cleanse all indoor environments of cigarette smoke. It also goes on to say that smoking sections in restaurants and even advanced ventilation systems will not protect people from this danger.

Indiana already has several cities that have gone smoke free and are doing so successfully, but Putnam County has not joined in.

"I think locally at this point we are not prepared to go smoke free," Williams said. "We are hoping this information will lead us in that direction."

The Putnam County Hospital went smoke-free almost one year ago and there are 29 restaurants in the county that have also gone smoke free.

With Indianapolis going smoke free, it puts the pressure on small communities to do the same, Williams said.

She believes part of that pressure involves educating people.

Right now the hospital offers free smoking cessation classes. The classes are part of a four-week program that meets every Wednesday from 6-7 p.m. This program is ongoing, every week of every month. Williams believes the program has been successful, as people stay in the program to get their nicotine patches, but she doesn't always know what really happens to each participant.

"Success is within the individual," Williams said. "It's a behavioral change."

She knows it is not an easy change and that is why they are willing to do on-site classes for employees. Plus they are hoping to start a new program for teenagers this fall.

The program will be called TAP -- Tobacco Awareness Program. It will be the equivalent of the adult cessation classes but it will be a voluntary group of children in grades six through 12.

Williams says children are being targeted by the tobacco industry at younger and younger ages.

Conclusions in the Surgeon General's report found, "Almost 60 percent of U.S. children aged 3-11 years -- or almost 22 million children -- are exposed to secondhand smoke. Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke are inhaling many of the same cancer-causing substances and poisons as smokers. Because their bodies are developing, infants and young children are especially vulnerable to the poisons in secondhand smoke."

Williams believes eliminating exposure to cigarette smoke is the only way to protect the children.

"They can't tell someone to put out a cigarette," Williams said. "Kids make the difference."

The information released in the Surgeon General's report may seem like it is common knowledge, but it was knowledge that had not been scientifically proven until now, Williams said.

Many diseases, not just lung cancer, can come from being exposed to secondhand smoke. People who have never smoked a day in their lives, such as Dana Reeves, wife of the late Superman actor Christopher Reeves, can die from a disease caused by this exposure.

There is no way to lessen the effect secondhand smoke has on people.

As Williams said, "There is no safe exposure to secondhand smoke."

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