2006-07-06 / Health & Wellness

Recent report on secondhand smoke leaves Calabasas officials feeling vindicated

By Michael Picarella pic@theacorn.com

A recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General said nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke will increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent, and lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent. The news left Calabasas officials saying "I told you so" to opponents of the city's own secondhand smoke ordinance.

"I think the surgeon general is making it easy for other cities to do what we did," said Barry Groveman the Calabasas City Council member who initiated the city's push for a nosmoking ordinance earlier this year.

"A lot of cities are reviewing it," he said. "I've gotten calls from Wisconsin, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Australia, New Zealand," Groveman said.

The document, "The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke," finds that even brief secondhand smoke exposure can cause immediate harm to the body.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the finding is of major concern because nearly half of all nonsmoking Americans are still regularly exposed to secondhand smoke.

"The report is a crucial warning sign to nonsmokers and smokers alike," Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said,

"The health effects of secondhand smoke exposure are more pervasive than we previously thought," Carmona said. "The scientific evidence is now indisputable: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, it is a serious health hazard that can lead to disease and premature death in children and nonsmoking adults."

According to HHS, secondhand smoke contains more than 50 cancer-causing chemicals, and is a known human carcinogen, as the state of California declared recently.

Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke inhale many of the same toxins smokers do, HHS officials said. Even brief secondhand exposure has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system, according to the report.

The city of Calabasas received worldwide attention when it became the first U.S. city to adopt a secondhand smoke ordinance prohibiting smoking in all public areas. Included are parks, sidewalks and outdoor businesses where people are expected to gather.

Critics blasted the law as too strict and said it was an infringement on civil liberties. But the American Lung Association, SAFE (Smoke-free Air For Everyone) and several other antismoking groups embraced the law and compared it to the current prohibitions on drunk driving.

Since Calabasas adopted its smoke ordinance, the city has only had to issue one warning, to a restaurant, officials said.

"We have not issued any citations to date," said Calabasas City Manager Tony Coroalles. "From personal observation, our restaurants and The Commons are doing a great job. I have been at The Commons for the last three weekends in the evening and I have not seen anyone smoking."

Coroalles said he's heard that when people have been asked not to smoke, the smokers have obliged.

"All seem to have complied without incident," Coroalles said.

The issue made additional news last week when the father of a 5-year-old girl with asthma sued the Los Angeles apartment complex where the family lives in an attempt to stop residents from smoking in common areas. Resident John Birke had complained repeatedly about the conditions, but nothing was done by the building's management, according to the lawsuit.

The Calabasas City Council plans in October to discuss possible legislation to address secondhand smoke in apartment buildings.

At a recent city council meeting, SAFE Director Ester Schiller told council members, "Our organization has been trying since 1995 to help people who are suffering because of a neighbor's tobacco smoke that's drifting into their apartment home.

"Right now," Schiller said, "there's no solution for this problem of drifting tobacco smoke in apartments, unless the apartment owner designates some smokefree sections or buildings. Most (apartment owners) do not, even though it's legal to do so."

Schiller urged the council to adopt an ordinance to address the is

itness sue.

When the Calabasas City Council began debating its secondhand smoke ordinance, some council members wondered if they should wait for state and federal agencies to act. At the time, Groveman said he felt state and federal agencies were many years

away from adopting such controversial legislation. He said the surgeon general report will spur governments into action.

"It is the duty of an elected official to act on behalf of public health when a hazard is identified by the surgeon general of the United States," Groveman said.

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