Second Hand Smoke Still Bad for You
It’s been awhile since the second hand smoke battles raged. As research data mounted, social opinion changed. Minnesotans demanded smoke-free building interiors. Smoking was relegated to patios, sidewalks and other out-of-doors locales with the belief that second hand smoke dissipates faster outside and posses no or at least a virtually non-existent risk to the non-smoking majority.
Two new studies suggest otherwise. The research data is beginning to suggest that second hand smoke exposure, even outdoors, increases the health risks associated with smoking. Smoking outdoors is still smoking. Inhaling second hand smoke outdoors is still inhaling second hand smoke.
Research conducted at the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health and released in July 2012 found that study participants, sitting immediately adjacent to cigarette smokers in outdoor settings, had higher levels of smoking related chemicals in their bloodstreams than they did when sitting next to non-smokers. In other words, even outside, second hand smoke affects non-smokers.
UGA’s studies are not conclusive but they are a start. Researchers didn’t control for wind speed, air temperature or other related factors. Sitting upwind from smokers, for example, is likely to minimize second hand smoke exposure while sitting downwind may concentrate effects. The studies did not distinguish among these phenomena.
The research brief is, like all research briefs, written for a science audience so it’s a little dense but, reading it, you’ll still catch the studies’ gist: sitting outside doesn’t neutralize second hand smoke. UGA’s two studies clearly point towards a deeper, longer and more exhaustive research project. It’s hard, however, not to leap to the conclusion that public smoking bans are coming. We already know that smoking is bad for smokers. Second hand smoke is bad for everyone whether or not they smoke. Smoking outdoors still exposes non-smokers to smoking’s risks.
I believe in research and recognize its importance in public policy debates. But, let’s get out in front of this one. It shouldn’t take decades to reveal what we know, learned from years of research. Smoking is detrimental to public and personal health. It has no place in public areas or public life. Uniformly smoke-free public area policies move Minnesota forward.