In his letter of Feb. 20, "Doubting studies of secondhand smoke," Bart Williams of Fairbanks was very critical of our agency's efforts to reduce the damaging consequences of secondhand smoke in Juneau.
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His criticism was inaccurate and without merit. The data citing the death rate from secondhand smoke was not my estimates, but rather data taken from professional journals and reports. In 2006, U.S. Surgeon Gen. Richard Carmona issued a major report titled "The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke" (www.cdc.gov/tobacco). The report states that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is more than a mere annoyance; it is a serious health hazard. Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke inhale many of the same toxins as smokers; more than 60 of these toxins are known carcinogens.
In particular, I would like to refer Williams to Page 15 of the surgeon general's executive summary, which provides a lengthy discussion of the statistical methodology used in obtaining the results of multiple research projects on secondhand smoke. In short, this report's meta-analysis employed both qualitative and quantitative data to reach its conclusion.
The second document that substantiates a quote questioned by Williams is closer to home. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Division of Public Health published an excellent report titled "Alaska Tobacco Facts." This 2006 document is replete with tragic evidence of the fatalities attributed to tobacco use and addiction. Chapter 10 is devoted to the effects of secondhand smoke on Alaskans, and Page 3 substantiates our quote that 120 Alaskans die from secondhand smoke annually.
I understand that this kind of data is shocking and hard to understand for those who have not been affected, but many Alaskans are all too well aware of the personal losses caused by tobacco-related diseases. Statistics can be argued. Motives can be argued. The fact that secondhand smoke kills cannot be argued.
Everyone deserves the right to breathe smoke-free air in any public place. Thirty years ago, when grocery stores went smoke-free, store owners were worried it would hurt business, which seems bizarre to us today. Bar owners across the nation have found that, after a period of transition, going smoke-free has actually increased their clientele by including those who previously would not go out because of the health risk.
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence