Sat, Jul 05, 2003 - Page 6 News List

UK health chief suggests a ban on public smoking

PASSIVE POISON Studies found that second-hand smoke contains more than 50 cancer-causing agents, 100 or more chemical toxins as well as other pollutants

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The UK government's top medical adviser has challenged the UK government to introduce a total ban on smoking in public to protect individuals and vulnerable children from the toxic effects of other people's tobacco.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the UK's chief medical officer, presenting his annual report on the state of the nation's health, also called on all employers, including restaurants and bars whose staff are exposed to secondary smoke for many hours a day, to ban smoking on their premises.

The UK had an excellent record on control so far, he said.

"The final brick in the wall would be sweeping changes on second-hand smoke. That would be a breakthrough. It would create no-smoking as the social norm."

Children and babies had no choice about inhaling adults' smoke, but they were at greater risk, he said. Their lungs were smaller and their immune systems less developed, which made them more susceptible to respiratory and ear infections triggered by passive smoking.

They also breathed faster than adults, taking in more chemicals in proportion to their weight.

Rat poison, insecticide, industrial solvent and preservatives for dead bodies are some of the other uses for the 4,000 or so chemicals found in tobacco smoke, says the report.

"Second-hand smoke contains five regulated hazardous air pollutants, 47 regulated hazardous wastes, more than 50 known or suspected cancer-causing agents and more than 100 chemical poisons," it says.

Passive smoking causes several hundred deaths a year from lung cancer and increases the risk of heart disease in those who live with a smoker by about 25 percent. It doubles the chances of a baby suffering cot death -- sudden infant death syndrome (Sids).

On Monday the UK government will begin the first television campaign on passive smoking. Hard-hitting adverts will warn that parents, carers and friends may be endangering the health of children by smoking around them, forcing them to inhale second-hand smoke. It will be followed by newspaper adverts and billboard posters.

Sir Liam believes Britain should follow the example of cities abroad where smoking has been banned in public places, such as Vancouver in Canada, where smoking has now dropped from 22 percent to 15 percent of the population. The restrictions in New York are too recent to assess the impact.

"If we moved forward in a robust and positive way, we could reduce the proportion of people smoking from the current level of 27 percent to 22 percent in a relatively short period of time," he said.

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