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Citing breast
cancer risks, California declares secondhand smoke toxic

Citing breast
cancer risks, California declares secondhand smoke toxic

Citing risks for breast cancer and other diseases, a California agency voted on Thursday to classify secondhand tobacco smoke as a "toxic air contaminant," a first-in-the-nation move that could ultimately toughen state regulations against smoking.

The designation by California's Air Resources Board starts a process that could lead to further smoking bans in the nation's largest state, which has often pioneered in health and environmental regulation.

Scientific studies in recent years have warned about the health impact from secondhand smoke and linked it to a wide array of ailments including heart disease, lung cancer and other respiratory ailments, and breast cancer.

"I think there is no question that this puts California way ahead," said John Froines, chairman of the Air Resources Board's Scientific Review Panel. "To actually have the major air pollution agency in the state of California to list ETS [environmental tobacco smoke] as a toxic air contaminant is going to have immense impact, we think, in terms of public education around other states. It will clearly lead to regulatory changes within the state."

The panel's 2005 study found that about 16% of all Californians smoked, but 56% of adults and 64% of adolescents were exposed to secondhand smoke.

"Because the diseases are common and ETS exposure is frequent and widespread, the overall impact can be quite large," the study found.

California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment estimates that as many as 5,500 nonsmoking Californians die annually of heart disease related to secondhand smoke, and as many as 1,100 die from lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke.

The decision in the California state capital kicks off a process that will likely take two or three years as officials study ways to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke.

In 1994, California became the first U.S. state to bar smoking in the workplace, then followed up with bans on smoking in restaurants and bars. Other American cities and states have since adopted similar prohibitions. Several California cities have enacted wider bans, such as San Francisco, which now prohibits smoking in city parks, and Los Angeles, which bars smoking at piers and beaches.

Some health experts say the ultimate impact of California's decision to classify secondhand smoke as a toxin could reach beyond the United States.

"It is important because it has included important new findings, new scientific information that will not only help California policy makers but will help those across the United States address this issue," said Paul Knepprath of the American Lung Association of California. "And, as I think some board members mentioned, this impact on the international community could be very helpful."

Some foreign countries, including Ireland, Norway, and Sweden, have workplace smoking bans.

A spokeswoman for tobacco giant Philip Morris USA, a unit of Altria Group, declined to comment. (Reuters)

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