Evidence continues to mount that exposure to secondhand smoke is likely to cause injury. A new study reported in a prominent medical journal also shows that ending the exposure has positive health benefits almost immediately.
Bar workers in Scotland showed significant improvements in respiratory symptoms and lung function within 2 months following a ban on smoking in confined public places, according to a study in a recent issue of Journal of the American Medical Association.
Exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke is a major worldwide public health issue, according to background information in the article. The effects on individuals has been difficult to measure, but a number of studies have established an increased risk of coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease and lung cancer, and the 2006 report by the U.S. surgeon general highlighted the causal relationship between secondhand smoke and premature death. In addition, for patients with preexisting respiratory conditions such as asthma, secondhand smoke leads to poorer disease control and more frequent hospital admission.
The researchers found that a total of 79.2% of the bar workers experienced respiratory or sensory symptoms before the introduction of the smoke-free policy, whereas 1 month afterward, 53.2% reported these symptoms, a decline of 26%. At 2 months after introduction of the smoke-free policy, this improvement was maintained, with 46.8% of participants reporting any symptom (a decrease of 32.4% from baseline). There were also improvements on certain measurements of lung function and reductions in serum cotinine (metabolized nicotine) levels. Asthmatic bar workers also had less airway inflammation and an increase in quality of life scores.
Unfortunately, for some non-smoking Floridians the banning of smoking in public places may have come too late. So far, there is no clear avenue for compensation.
For Florida smokers, however, there is the civil remedy of an individual lawsuit against the tobacco companies for compensatory and punitive damages. Those Florida smokers who have suffered permanent damage to their bodies or who have died of smoking-related illnesses have rights recently assured by the Florida Supreme Court. These rights will expire in 2007. Prompt legal consultation is advisable and urged.