Researchers have long known that secondhand smoke can be just as hazardous for nonsmokers as smoking is for smokers, but now there is fresh evidence showing just how dangerous the after effects from cigarettes can be, and how quickly it affects your body. Oregon Department for Health scientists documented for the first time ever an hourly buildup of a cancer-causing compound from cigarette smoke in the bloodstream and urine of nonsmokers working in bars and restaurants within the state.
The Report which appeared in the American Journal of Public Health, found that waitstaff and bartenders who worked a typical night shift gradually accumulated higher levels of NNK, a carcinogen found in cigarette smoke, at the alarming rate of 6% each hour they worked. NNK is known to be a key ingredient involved in inducing lung cancer in both lab rats and smokers.
“We were very surprised by the immediacy of the effect and the fact that we could also measure the average hourly increase,” said Michael Stark, the leader of the study and head investigator at Oregons Mulmomah County Health Department.
A number of previous studies that were conducted in homes where at least one family member smoked, or in work places where some employees did, had found that nonsmokers in these environments increased their risk of developing lung cancer, as well as other health conditions such as respiratory ailments or heart disease, on average by 20%. The Surgeon General, in a comprehensive report last year on the health effects of secondhand smoke, declared that there is “no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.” However, until now, it wasn’t clear quite how quickly the carcinogens became absorbed.
Control Test Confirms Results
The authors of the study are confident that the increases in NNK in the workers they tested most likely came from their exposure to smoke — the study also included a control group of similar subjects in restaurants where smoking was not allowed, these workers showed no differences in the amount of NNK in their urine and bloodstream before and after their shifts.
The findings only confirm what public health officials have been arguing for years — that having seperate areas for smokers in indoor environments or relying on ventilation systems in restaurants, bars and other public places is not enough. “There is even experimental evidence from studies where you put nonsmokers in a room, introduce smoke into the room and measure their artery function, we witness the platelets get sticky, which can cause bloodclots and lead to a heart attack, and the arteries ability to dilate decreases very rapidly,” says Dr. Matthew McKenna, director of the office on smoking and public health for the Centers for Disease Control.
All of this could mean more time loitering outside buildings and in alleyways for smokers intent on grabbing a quick puff. Thirteen states now prohibit smoking in restaurants altogether with most of these also including bars as well, and while 11 states still put no restrictions on smoking, individual cities within those states — such as Austin in Texas, for example — have nevertheless passed legislation banning lighting up in eating establishments and other public areas.
A lot of these regulations are the direct result of grassroots advocacy efforts; “It has been a very effective strategy,” says McKenna.” If the discussion moves to a centralized place like the state legislatures, opponents can concentrate their efforts
and put forward their argument for a ban. But if there are 40 municipalities working on smoking bans at the same time, it is very difficult for opponents to fight so many battles at the same time.”