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According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), which is also referred to as secondhand smoke, is a mixture of the smoke emanating from the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers. It has also been called passive, or involuntary, smoke. Although different sources may use different terms and varied definitions, the basic focus is on the exposure of a nonsmoker to the high levels of carcinogenic and toxic fumes emitted from burning tobacco.
ETS contains over 4,700 chemicals. Of these chemicals, forty-two are known carcinogenic compounds, including benzene, arsenic, nickel, nicotine, chromium 6, and vinyl chloride. Many of these compounds are added to tobacco in order to enhance burn time, freshness, and nicotine levels.
A 1996 study conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documented that measurable levels of serum cotinine were found in the blood of 88 percent of American nonsmokers. The presence of cotinine, a chemical the body metabolizes from nicotine, shows that a person has been exposed to tobacco smoke in the last two to three days. In other words, nearly nine out of ten nonsmoking Americans are exposed to ETS on a regular basis. Furthermore, it is estimated that 50 to 75 percent of children under five years of age live in homes with at least one adult smoker.
R. J. Reynolds, the manufacturer of Camel, Winston, and other cigarette brands, has stated that they "do not believe that the scientific evidence concerning secondhand smoke establishes it as a risk factor for lung cancer, heart disease, or any other disease in adult nonsmokers" (R. J. Reynolds, "Tobacco Issues"). However, research indicates that exposure to ETS can contribute to serious health consequences and is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
The EPA has classified ETS as a group A carcinogen and estimates that it causes about three thousand lung cancer deaths in U.S. nonsmokers per year. Legal challenges against the validity of this study have been filed, mostly by tobacco interests. However, the EPA stands behind its findings and has received confirmation and support from other health groups conducting similar and expanded studies. For instance, in 1997 a study conducted by the California Environmental Protection Agency linked secondhand smoke not only to lung cancer, but also to heart disease, nasal sinus cancer, and various other life-threatening diseases. Other studies have established a connection between ETS and breast cancer and stroke. Studies of the effects of ETS exposure on children (both prenatal and postnatal) have indicated higher instances of sudden infant death syndrome, low birthweight, problems with neurodevelopment, negative behavior, childhood cancer, cardiovascular disease, and negative respiratory effects such as asthma and reduced lung capacity. The EPA estimates that each year between 200,000 and 1 million asthmatic children have their condition aggravated by exposure to secondhand smoke. Children of adult smokers have been found to have higher instances of ear infections, nosebleeds, colds, and flu.
Author Info: NINA S. JONES, The Gale Group Inc., Macmillan Reference USA, New York, Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health, 2002
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