Secondhand Smoke Linked to Breast Cancer

Report Calls for Listing Secondhand Smoke as Carcinogen in California

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March 11, 2005 -- A major new report is calling on California officials to list secondhand smoke as a carcinogen and strengthen the state's indoor smoking laws.

The report, from the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board, is based on more than 1,000 studies on secondhand smoke and lists a range of hazardous health effects associated with it.

One of the most notable is the connection made between secondhand smoke and breast cancers. Based on the best studies available, researchers say exposure to secondhand smoke can increase a woman's risk of breast cancer by up to 90%.

Experts say this study is the first major report to draw such a strong association between secondhand smoke and breast cancer. The causal relationship between secondhand smoke exposure and breast cancer appears to be greater for premenopausal breast cancer. The report states that higher risks were noted for breast cancer diagnosed in women under 50 and women exposed before puberty and prior to first pregnancy.

Secondhand Smoke Tied to Variety of Problems

Secondhand smoke is also known as environmental tobacco smoke or passive smoking, and consists of a complex combination of gases and particles released by the burning of tobacco and from smoke exhaled by the smoker.

Researchers say scientific evidence also supports a causal relationship between exposure to secondhand smoke and a variety of other health problems, ranging from low birth weight and ear infections in children to heart disease and lung cancer in adults.

The report has been submitted for review by a scientific panel. If approved, the report would be turned over to the Air Resources Board, which is in charge of setting regulations for air pollution in California.

Because breast cancer is a relatively common disease, researchers say the up to 90% increase in breast cancer risk shown by this study represents a major public health threat in addition to the already known heart disease and lung cancer risks associated with secondhand smoke.

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SOURCES: California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board, "Proposed Identification of Environmental Tobacco Smoke as a Toxic Air Contaminant -- March 2005," March 10, 2005.
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