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FOR RELEASE: November 14, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Secondhand Smoke Kills about 750 Oklahomans Every Year

Do you smoke? If not, you may think you are immune to the hazards of smoking. But people who don't smoke still should have concerns about breathing "secondhand" smoke, the smoke created by smokers. Secondhand smoke kills about 750 Oklahomans every year. That makes smoking a health issue for all people, not just smokers.

"The Great American Smokeout on Thursday, Nov. 15, is a good time to encourage smokers to try to quit smoking, if not for their own health, at least for the health of those around them. Breathing secondhand smoke for just 30 minutes can damage a healthy heart of a non-smoker and make parts of their hearts look like those of smokers," said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch.

At least 40 chemicals in secondhand smoke have been shown to cause cancer. People who are routinely exposed to secondhand smoke, such as workers in bars and restaurants, can see their risk of lung cancer triple.

Young children are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke. According to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, children who live with parents or caretakers who smoke indoors may as well be living in a smoky bar. Since children's lungs are smaller and their immune systems are less developed, they are more likely to develop respiratory illnesses and ear infections from secondhand smoke. At least 8,700 physician's office visits for ear infections in Oklahoma children are caused by secondhand smoke each year and at least 1,800 cases of bronchitis or pneumonia occur annually among Oklahoma infants and toddlers due to exposure to secondhand smoke.

"There is no safe level of smoke from cigarettes, since even small amounts can cause cancer. In the coming year, the Oklahoma State Board of Health will be publicly discussing ways to protect all persons in public places and workplaces from inhaling secondhand smoke. We hope that aggressive action by health care providers, businesses, legislators and the general public will help keep secondhand smoke issues in the forefront so that positive changes can be made to improve the quality of health for Oklahomans," Beitsch said.

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