July 3 , 2007
Second Hand Cigarette Smoke
Eric Steele, DO
Second hand cigarette smoke just got even less appealing for non-smokers and smokers concerned about the safety of those around them; researchers have recently shown that every hour of exposure to second hand cigarette smoke causes levels of cancer-causing smoke ingredients to increase in the non-smoker’s blood and urine. This information is, if you will pardon the pun, the smoking gun showing how second hand smoke causes cancer.
As reported in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers from the Oregon Department of Health studied blood and urine levels of the cancer-causing cigarette smoke ingredient NNK (4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone for those of you chemistry geeks) in people who got their cigarette smoke by inhaling it from someone else’s cigarettes. What they found was that levels of NNK increased about 6% every hour of second hand smoke exposure, in both urine and blood, in waitstaff and bartenders of bars and restaurants that allowed smoking in the establishment.
The new evidence illustrates why the United States Surgeon General said last year of second hand smoke that there is “no risk-free level of exposure.” NNK starts accumulating immediately on exposure, increases steadily as exposure persists, and over time damages cells in ways that lead to the formation of cancerous cells. The result is that non-smokers in environments where others smoke have risks of heart disease, cancer, and lung disease increased by 20%.
It also illustrates why 13 states – including Maine – have banned cigarette smoking in restaurants and almost as many have banned it in bars.
The new information makes it even more important that smokers have places to smoke where those who don’t want to be exposed can be protected, and where non-smokers who want no exposure to chemicals such as NNK can avoid inhaling dangerous cigarette smoke. It also puts an added burden on smokers to do what they can to smoke outside the home to avoid exposing non-smoking family members to NNK and its attendant increase in risk of cancer. We now know that “Love me, love my NNK” is not a reasonable thing to expect.