A Surgeon General’s Report released today raises new concerns about the dangers of secondhand smoke.

According to the report, titled “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke,” exposure to secondhand smoke at home or work increases the risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent and lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent in Americans who have never smoked.

Tobacco use is a major cause of disability and death in the United States.  More than 400,000 American smokers die each year from their habit, and tens of thousands of nonsmokers die from inhaling secondhand smoke.  Studies show that more than 3,000 minors in the United States start smoking every day.

The report also concludes that exposure of adults to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and causes coronary heart disease and lung cancer.  The scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.  Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear problems and severe asthma.

“The good news is that, unlike some public health hazards, secondhand smoke exposure is easily prevented,” U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona said. “Smoke-free indoor environments are proven, simple approaches that prevent exposure and harm.”

Two bills passed during Louisiana’s just-ended legislative session address the issue of secondhand smoke.  The first, HB 1010, will prohibit the operator or a passenger in a motor vehicle from smoking when children under the age of 13 are present.

The second, SB 742, known as the “Louisiana Smoke-Free Air Act,” prohibits smoking in public buildings, schools and public places in enclosed areas within a place of employment.  This would include restaurants and bars within those restaurants.  The law will take effect Jan. 1, 2007, and Louisiana will become the 19th state in the nation to pass statewide, smoke-free legislation.

“We are extremely pleased with the recent legislation that will protect our citizens from the deadly effects of secondhand smoke,” said LDH Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise.  “These laws demonstrate there is widespread support by citizens for greater measures that restrict smoking in public places and near children.”