It never occurred to me when I was pregnant with our first child that having a roommate who was a smoker could be a problem. And, she was considerate, for the times. She never blew smoke near my face, held her hand out the window when we were in the car, cleaned up her own ashtrays.

We knew about smoking and pregnancy by then, in the summer of 1968. But, little was known about second-hand smoke, or, as it is called now, passive smoking.


Pregnancy-and-second-hand-smoke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, we know it puts babies at risk for SIDS and can cause low birth weight. My son weighed in at 6 pounds, 5 ounces, just over the limit for needing an incubator.

I know of one young mother recently who wouldn’t let her mother near her new baby because of her Mom’s smoking. They must not have had that conversation, though, because one day her Mom just drove home to Texas from Virginia, convinced her daughter was simply an over-protective new Mom.

The turning point for informing consumers that cigarettes really, really were, we’re not kidding this time, and this is not a hint, it’s a warning, dangerous was the Surgeon General’s January 11, 1964 report, “Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the United States.”

It was not the first time smoking had been said to be dangerous. Unlike earlier statements, however, that said, weakly, there might be a causal relationship between smoking and poor health effects, this report said flat out smoking is responsible, largely on the basis of two long-term studies, released on June 12, 1957 and March 7, 1962.

Some of its findings:

  • Chronic bronchitis is caused by smoking
  • Smokers have ten to twenty times more lung cancer
  • There is a correlation with emphysema and heart disease
  • There is a correlation between pregnant women who smoke and low-birth weight babies.

The report offered hope to quitters, saying that smoking was a habit that people could break. By 1989, however, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, helping people understand why quitting was so difficult, said that smoking is an addiction.

But, it wasn’t until 2006 that the ill effects of passive smoking were credibly reported by the Surgeon General, Richard Carmona.

There is now scientific consensus that passive smoking increases the risk of:

  • Lung cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Brain tumor

It is also responsible for more ear infections and hearing loss, a risk for asthma and dementia and a risk for cancer in pets.

Children exposed to second-hand smoke are at increased risk for:

  • Allergies
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Tooth decay
  • Ear and lung infections.

As a result of Carmona’s efforts, companies began banning indoor smoking, including restaurants and bars, which had feared, until a few tried it, that their businesses would suffer. The benefits were not just felt by customers, but especially by the workers. Dana Reeve, who never smoked but sang in a nightclub for a number of years, may have been at risk for the lung cancer that eventually took her from those years.

For some time, businesses have ordered smokers to stand outside, keeping their businesses smoke-free. Now, hospitals and many universities and hotels ban smoking indoors and out, campus-wide.

Does it work to ban smoking in businesses and public places?

In the 18 months after Pueblo, Colorado passed a 2003 smoke-free ordinance for the city, the number of heart attacks requiring a hospital visit dropped 27%.  In 2010, Toronto, Canada found that hospital admissions for heart problems dropped 39% when they passed a ban on smoking in restaurants.

Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers

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