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Report: No amount of smoke is safe

Surgeon general: Separate areas aren't good enough
KAREN ROBINSON-JACOBS
The Dallas Morning News

The U.S. surgeon general handed advocates of smoke-free public places new ammunition Tuesday – a report declaring that separate smoking sections don't protect bystanders from the hazards posed by other people's tobacco smoke.

While not a smoking gun – it's actually a compilation of the best previously done research on secondhand smoke – the report is expected to serve as fresh fodder in a debate that has already led to restaurant smoking bans in states including California, Florida and New York and cities such as Dallas and Austin.

"I think it won't be long before Plano will be like Dallas or New York," said Steve Fields, part owner of Steve Fields Steak & Lobster Lounge in Plano, which has an indoor smoking area with a high-tech ventilation system. "Until then, I owe it to the smoking customers to allow them a smoking area."

The new report was described as the most comprehensive federal examination of the topic since the last surgeon general's report in 1986, which declared secondhand smoke a cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers.

Tuesday's report concluded that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

DallasNews.com/extra
Read the report and watch video from Tuesay's news conference

American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation (Official site)
Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 percent to 30 percent and lung cancer by 20 percent to 30 percent, the report said.

"The debate is over," said Surgeon General Richard Carmona. "The science is clear. Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance but a serious health hazard."

Last year, health officials estimated that secondhand smoke kills about 3,400 nonsmoking Americans annually from lung cancer, 46,000 from heart disease and 430 from sudden infant death syndrome.

The report focused attention on public spaces but also showed special concern for young children whose parents smoke around them.

About one in five children is exposed to secondhand smoke at home. Those children are at increased risk of SIDS, lung infections such as pneumonia, ear infections and more severe asthma, the report said.

At places of business, the report said, efforts to separate smokers from nonsmokers, clean the air and install sophisticated ventilation systems don't remove exposure to secondhand smoke.

The report "eliminates any excuse from any state or city for taking halfway measures to restrict smoking, or permitting smoking in any indoor workplace," said Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

But when pressed at a news conference on how the Bush administration would implement his findings, Dr. Carmona would only pledge to publicize the report in hopes of encouraging anti-smoking advocacy. Passing anti-smoking laws is up to Congress and state and local governments, he said.

Plano's ordinance, which allows separate restaurant areas for smokers and nonsmokers with proper ventilation, is about 10 years old.

"When we put that ordinance together, it was leading-edge science," said Brian Collin, Plano's director of environmental health. "If new science suggests something else, we'd certainly want to take a look at it."

Restaurants and hotels within the Dallas city limits have been smokeless since March 1, 2003.

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller said she hopes "that we would follow Austin's lead and include bars on that in the next year. And I would like the City Council to consider that."

One survey of 39 hotels, done in the first 40 days of the ordinance, said they lost at least $1.5 million in meeting, banquet and room revenue as a result of the ban.

But according to the new report, "evidence from peer-reviewed studies shows that smoke-free policies and regulations do not have an adverse economic impact on the hospitality industry."

The Dallas-based parent of the Tony Roma's rib chain has eliminated smoking at a company-owned restaurant in Henderson, Nev., adjacent to smoking hotbed Las Vegas.

"The impact on our business has been minimal" when bans have been enacted, said Marc Buehler, vice president of marketing for Romacorp Inc. "Even in markets like Las Vegas, we did not see a falloff because of that decision."

The Web site of the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation lists 15 states where restaurants are required to be smoke-free and 11 states where smoking is banned in all workplaces.

"We've seen counties change, we've seen entire states change," said Clay Dover, a spokesman for Dallas-based Metromedia Restaurant Group, which owns the Bennigan's chain.

Last summer, the company spent more than $30,000 to construct an enclosed smoking section for its Frisco location. Stores in Allen and Cedar Hill also have glass enclosures for smokers.

"It definitely impacts the restaurants but to different degrees. Any type of ordinance will have some impact," he said. "We understand it's a cost of doing business, same as taxes."

The National Restaurant Association did not respond specifically to the report but issued a statement noting that its mission is to "serve all of our customers – nonsmokers and smokers alike."

"In abiding with ordinances or laws set forth by local elected officials, restaurants should be able to choose a policy that works best for them and their patrons," spokeswoman Chrissy Shott said in a statement.

Among the smokers is diner Savannah Warren, who was enjoying a chicken salad Tuesday at the Bennigan's in Plano.

A student at Brookhaven College in Farmers Branch, Ms. Warren figures she inhales about a pack a day. She likes to eat out a lot, too.

"Most of the time, if there is one, I choose the smoking section," said the 20-year-old Dallas resident, who has been smoking since age 12."That's getting harder to find. There are a whole lot less of them than when I was 15."

She agrees with several aspects of the surgeon general's report.

"It's true smoke doesn't just stay in one place, and that can be important if you're allergic to it," she said.

Still, she thinks the number of restrictions associated with smoking are, well, "mean."

"It's not fair," she said with a pout. "They give us cigarettes, but they take away all the places you can smoke them."

The Associated Press and staff writer Sudeep Reddy in Washington contributed to this report.

E-mail krobinson@dallasnews.com

RECOMMENDATIONS
Surgeon General Richard Carmona offered this advice for consumers and employers:

Choose smoke-free restaurants and other businesses, and thank them for going smoke-free.

Don't let anyone smoke near your child. Don't take your child to restaurants or other indoor places that allow smoking.

Smokers should never smoke around a sick relative.

Employers should make all indoor work spaces smoke-free and not allow smoking near entrances to protect the health of both customers and workers and offer programs to help employees kick the habit.

ADDITIONAL FINDINGS
Among other conclusions from the surgeon general's report:

• Workplace smoking restrictions not only reduce secondhand smoke but discourage active smoking by employees.

• Secondhand smoke can act on the arteries so quickly that even a brief pass through someone else's smoke can endanger people at high risk of heart disease. Don't ever smoke around a sick relative.

• Living with a smoker increases a nonsmoker's risk of lung cancer and heart disease by up to 30 percent.

• There isn't proof that secondhand smoke causes breast cancer, although the evidence is suggestive. California earlier this year cited that link in becoming the first state to declare secondhand smoke a toxic air pollutant.

• On the plus side, blood measurements of a nicotine byproduct show that exposure to secondhand smoke has decreased. Levels dropped by 75 percent in adults and 68 percent in children between the early 1990s and 2002. However, not only has children's exposure declined less rapidly, but levels of that byproduct among children are more than twice as high as in nonsmoking adults.

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