Clothing Bargaining Council Health Care Fund

The Tobacco Industry has deliberately sought to distort confuse and cloud the issue of passive smoking and health.

It will have you believe that at worst, environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is a personal nuisance to non-smokers, easily avoided by the practise of common courtesy, whereby smokers should ask those around them whether they mind before lighting up, and nonsmokers should mention annoyances in a pleasant and friendly manner. In the opinion of the Tobacco Industry, ETS is harmless.

The reality of the matter is that the Tobacco Industry has been secretly very concerned by the shocking truth that has emerged about passive smoking. So much so that in the 1970s, after the industry uncovered the fact that tobacco-specific nitrosamines were the most significant risk in lung cancer both among smokers and in non-smokers subjected to sidestream smoke, it withheld this information, not only from the public, but also from other researchers within the industry, and even within the company that obtained the results. Former Director of Applied Research for Philip Morris, Dr William Farone divulged this in a prepared statement entitled, appropriately, "Toxic Gas for the Masses", in July 1998.

A secret document dating back to 1988, authored by Dr Sharon Boyce of British American Tobacco (BAT), detailed a global strategy to "co-ordinate and pay so many scientists on an international basis to keep the ETS controversy alive."

By setting out to "produce research or stimulate controversy", that could be manipulated by public affairs people in the relevant countries", the industry blatantly tried to discredit and undermine the integrity and credibility of peer-reviewed scientific research into the health risks of passive smoking.
Well, the medical jury is out on the matter - world health experts are unanimous in their decision that environmental smoke is a killer.

Specialists from the disciplines of epidemiology, occupational health, cardiology, respiratory medicine, paediatrics, and environmental health have amassed an overwhelming body of evidence on the dangers of passive smoking to adults and children.

Chemicals in tobacco smoke damage and thicken arteries, clogging them up with fatty deposits, they cause extra stickiness of your blood, decrease your oxygen levels, and weaken your heart muscle. Collectively these processes increase an adult nonsmokers' risk of a fatal heart problem, such as a heart attack, by 24%, as a result of living or working with smokers.

ETS is a lethal cocktail of 4700 noxious chemicals, including 54 identified cancer-causing chemicals. Logically, in 1992, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared ETS a Class A carcinogen, categorised with the likes of asbestos, benzene and radon, the worst of all carcinogens.

A combined review of 37 studies concluded that the long-term exposure to ETS increases a non-smoker's risk of a lung cancer to 26%. There are no "safe" levels of exposure to carcinogens - eliminate the risk by eliminating the hazard in enclosed areas.

Non-smoking adult asthmatics have twice as many serious attacks if they inhale smoke, and other adults get small airway dysfunction.
Children are exceptionally vulnerable to tobacco smoke. The reputable scientific literature, i.e. that which has not been funded by the Tobacco Industry, is inundated with studies documenting the disproportionate burden of preventable sickness suffered by children as a result of passive smoking.

Breathing cigarette smoke causes babies especially under the age of 18 months to get more bronchitis and pneumonia. Asthma and painful middle ear infections are caused by LTS, with 13 percent of asthma cases under the age of 15 years due to household smoking. Local research done in Cape Town showed a clear-cut association between children's asthma and smoking by their mothers, as in the international studies done. About 60% of women on the Cape Flats smoke, thus the impact upon the child health in already impoverished community is devastating.

Passive smoking begins in the womb. Pregnant women who smoke have smaller, weaker babies, and double the risk of their babies dying from cot death. Cancer-causing chemicals are found in the first urine passed by new born babies of smoking mothers.

Mothers are workers too, and many non-smokers are exposed to ETS at their workplaces. Studies done on the harmful effects of passive smoking are based on home exposures, but the risks are extrapolated to the workplaces based on sound data which have quantified ETS exposures in different work settings.

The Tobacco Industry and their sham science apologists will also forward the argument that proper ventilation is the solution to passive smoking. This is patently untrue - it is known that the best available systems just blow the toxic waste of burning cigarettes from one side of the room to another, as it is in a gaseous and a particulate phase. Many workplaces are small and very poorly ventilated, and with the high prevalence rates of smoking in sectors of our communities, non-smokers are being exposed to exceptionally high levels of ETS.

Non-smoking workers in bars and restaurants must not be forgotten - they still have to endure high levels of ETS in "separate" smoking areas, as they have no choice but to work where they find themselves. American studies show that bartenders have significantly higher rates of lung cancer and heart attacks as a result of their occupational exposures to passive smoking. Several law suits are in progress of workers claiming compensation from employers, and this is not an unlikely scenario for this country to be facing in the very near future.

Restaurant owners have little to worry about in terms of their revenue and proposed smoke-free restaurants: at least 11 studies done in the United States prove that clean air policies do not have an adverse impact on sales. The scare-mongering around job losses in the restaurant trade has been based on scientifically invalid surveys, often partially funded by the tobacco industry.

A total indoor smoke-free policy at all workplaces would thus seem to be the easiest, cheapest and most rational step to take on the grounds of public health, which would benefit everybody, smokers and non-smokers alike. It would also be the easiest to implement, enforce and monitor, especially in a factory environment, on the basis of occupational health and safety. Better compliance from management would be encouraged if the legislation clearly forbids indoor smoking.

Clearly our government has already committed itself to the fundamental principal of protecting human rights. Our excellent Constitution and occupational health legislation have entrenched the right of all workers to hazard-free workplaces. The State and private employers are already legally obliged to uphold this inalienable right by protecting them from an environmental pollutant which kills more people than all toxic chemicals combined. In the US, 53 000 people die per year from passive smoking alone.

Smoke-free workplaces benefit smokers as well as non-smokers:
International studies prove that smokers decrease their daily cigarette consumption after a smoke-free indoor policy is established, even after two years.
Smokes are more likely to attempt to quit their addictive, socially-cued behaviour if the work environment is conducive to this very difficult task, i.e. smoke-free.
There are more successful quitters in smoke4ree workplaces.

I thus reiterate my call for total smoke-free workplaces; level the playing fields for all workers, whether they be in factories, offices or bars.

Workers go to work to earn a living, not a fatal disease with incalculable personal, social, emotional and financial cost.

Smokers can choose to smoke outside, or refrain from smoking at all, whether at work or during recreation; workers have no choice but to work where they find themselves. They cannot refrain from breathing when in a smoke-filled room.

Dr Kathryn Grammer
Principal Medical Officer
19 October 1998

[Ed. note: references have not been included.]