UN health agency urges completely smoke-free indoor environments

UN health agency urges completely smoke-free indoor environments

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The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today released recommendations citing extensive evidence of harm caused by second-hand tobacco smoke and urging that all indoor environments be completely free of it.

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today released recommendations citing extensive evidence of harm caused by second-hand tobacco smoke and urging that all indoor environments be completely free of it.

“There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke,” said the WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, urging all countries to pass laws requiring all indoor workplaces and public places to be 100 per cent smoke-free.

There are about 4,000 known chemicals in tobacco smoke; more than 50 of them are known to cause cancer, according to WHO, which says exposure to second-hand smoke causes heart disease and many serious respiratory and cardiovascular diseases that can lead to premature death in adults. It also causes diseases and worsens existing conditions, such as asthma, in children.

Exposure to second-hand smoke occurs anywhere smoking is permitted: homes, workplaces and other public places. An estimated 200,000 workers die each year due to exposure to smoke at work. WHO estimates that around 700 million children, or almost half of the world's children, breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke, particularly at home.

The agency also pointed to the broader burden of second-hand smoke, including direct and indirect medical cost, productivity losses, higher renovation and cleaning costs, and increased risk of fire.

Later this year, countries participating in the second Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control are expected to discuss guidelines for protection against exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke. The second Conference of the Parties, starts on June 30 in Bangkok, Thailand.

“This topic should matter to everyone, because everyone benefits from smoke-free places,” said Dr. Douglas Bettcher, Acting Director of the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative.

The new policy recommendations, calling for all indoor public places and workplaces to be 100 per cent smoke-free, were put out by the agency ahead of World No Tobacco Day, marked each year on 31 May.

They are based on the evidence of three recent major reports, which all reached the same conclusion, put out, respectively, by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the United States Surgeon General and the California Environmental Protection Agency.

WHO says tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death globally, causing more than 5 million deaths a year. The problem is expanding most rapidly in the developing world, where currently half of tobacco-related deaths occur. By 2030, if current trends continue, 8 out of every 10 tobacco-related deaths will be in the developing world.