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Secondhand Smoke in Bars and Restaurants Means Higher Risk of Asthma, Cancer

First study of its kind finds risk above ‘acceptable’ level (August 1)

In the first study to evaluate the health risks of exposure to secondhand smoke for patrons of restaurants and bars, researchers at the University of California–Berkeley have found that the risks are well above the acceptable level. The study assessed the risk for lung cancer and heart disease deaths among both patrons and servers and also for asthma initiation — the first study to do so — among servers.

The results were published in the journal Tobacco Control.

Taking exposure data from 65 restaurants and bars in Minnesota over an 8-month period in 2007, the researchers found that the lifetime excess risk of lung cancer death was 18 in a million for patrons visiting only nonsmoking sections and 80 in a million for patrons in the smoking section. For servers, the lifetime excess risk was 802 in a million for lung cancer death.

Extrapolating to the entire country, the researchers estimate that the lifetime excess risk for the general nonsmoking population due to exposure to secondhand smoke in restaurants and bars would result in 214 additional lung cancer deaths and 3,001 additional heart disease deaths per year.

Although smoking bans have been enacted in many parts of the country, one quarter of the U.S. population remains unprotected by smoke-free policies in restaurants and 35% in bars, according to the study. Globally, 95% of the population is unprotected by smoke-free policies in restaurants and bars.

This was the first study to look at servers’ risk of asthma initiation due to secondhand smoke exposure. The researchers estimated the risks to correspond to 1,420 new asthma cases per year among nonsmoking servers in the U.S.

“There are huge economic impacts related to smoking,” said co-author Dr. Laura Gundel. “It’s worth it to society to try to minimize the damage from smoking.”

Source: Berkeley Lab; August 1, 2013.

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