Rethinking Healthcare

The growing battle over third hand smoke

The growing battle over third hand smoke

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Freedom is fine until your freedom puts my health at risk and smoking does that.

Walking home yesterday I went through a gauntlet of smokers sent outside to breathe smoke all over me.

As an exercise I held my breath, but a growing body of research indicates I failed to protect my health. (Image from CBS4 in Miami's piece on this subject.)

The problem now has a name -- third hand smoke.

It's what remains after a cigarette is put out. It lingers in furniture, and can harm children or infants even 24 hours later. It includes such toxins as cyanide and arsenic. It gets on the clothes of passersby and stays there.

Experts say the cure is to make your home and buildings smoke free, but as my example showed (and you do this experiment too, every day) that just moves the problem to the streets.

And so a new political war over smoking has been joined.

The first skirmish took place earlier this year in California, where an effort to ban smoking at public beaches was passed but vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is not running for re-election.

It has now moved to New York City, where anti-smoking crusader Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pushing a bill to ban smoking in parks and outdoor plazas. Opponents of the ban cry freedom, but Bloomberg seems to welcome their scorn.

An obvious answer might be the technology fix of e-cigarettes, but they're also under increased regulatory attack, with the military having recently introduced a ban on them.

The industry's problem is not limited to legislation. A federal court has already ruled that a worker harmed by third-hand smoke had recourse to sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A billionaire mayor has nothing on the plaintiff's bar.

The controversy has even leaked overseas, where a British study on the problem was followed by a video in which a UK Independent Party candidate claimed the case for it was unproven, while smoking a cigarette.

Smokers and their allies fear this may be the first shot in an attempt to completely ban tobacco, and they might be right. They call the studies junk science.

Freedom is fine until your freedom puts my health at risk and smoking does that. The issue is not going to go away.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure