South Bend Tribune
Recent information on exposure to secondhand smoke is encouraging. And heartbreaking.
What’s encouraging is that Americans’ exposure to secondhand smoke has declined by half since 2000, according to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage of American nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke fell to 25 percent in 2012 from 53 percent in 2000.
Even with the decrease, 58 million Americans — about one in four nonsmokers — were exposed to secondhand smoke.
The CDC analysis shows certain groups, including low-income nonsmokers, African-Americans and those living in rental housing face higher risk of exposure to tobacco smoke.
And here’s where the truly heartbreaking part comes in: The age group with the highest exposure? Children between the ages of 3 and 11. Two out of every five children in this segment are exposed. For black children the figure is even worse: seven out of 10.
The dangers of secondhand smoke are long-established. Some 30 years ago, C. Everett Koop issued the first report on the health consequences of involuntary tobacco smoke exposure. Today, the CDC estimates that exposure kills 41,000 nonsmokers and more than 400 infants every year. Secondhand smoke causes respiratory infections and asthma in children.
So any celebrating over the decreasing number of Americans exposed to secondhand smoke should be tempered by concern about the millions of nonsmokers — including an astonishing number of children — who are still at risk. It should be clear by now that cutting funding for smoking cessation programs that could help smokers quit is unwise.
Yet that’s exactly what the states have done over the years. And Indiana, where the adult smoking rate is well above the national average, has been especially cruel with its cuts: The General Assembly has continually raided money intended to pay for smoking cessation efforts and public initiatives aimed at helping smokers kick the habit.
Last year lawmakers cut tobacco prevention and control funding to $5.8 million, which is about 7.8 percent of the CDC recommendation of $73.5 million.
One way to restore some of that money — and reduce the number of smokers — is to raise the cost of cigarettes. As advocated on these pages in a recent column by Dr. Richard Feldman, former Indiana state commissioner of health, such a move always results in increases in state revenues and always reduces smoking.
He notes that a one-dollar cost increase is projected to reduce youth smoking by 13.3 percent and prevent the premature death of 32,500 people alive today.
That’s an attractive prospect for a state where smoking accounts for one in five deaths each year.
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