Health officials underscore passive smoking hazards
The health hazards of passive smoking were yesterday underlined by health officials in response to a claim by a legal consultant that there was no link between passive smoking and diseases.
Speaking to The Times, Health Promotion Department director Mario Spiteri stressed that passive smoking was a killer.
On Thursday, the Chamber for Small and Medium Enterprises, GRTU's legal consultant Andrew Borg Cardona said a British Medical Journal study reported there was no scientific link between passive smoking and diseases.
However, Dr Spiteri said epidemiological studies, sometimes carried over decades, have proved that second-hand smoke was harmful. He said there were tons of documents showing that a number of people who lived with smokers suffered from tobacco-related diseases like lung cancer.
In fact, he said, a study carried out in Greece showed that although around two decades ago the percentage of female smokers was low, women who lived with smoking males were also suffering from lung cancer. "It is evident that there was a direct link," he said.
Among people who died of lung cancer despite being lifelong non-smokers was British entertainer Roy Castle, who died of the disease in 1994.
Dr Spiteri said that if it were not true that second-hand smoke was harmful, the tobacco industry would have long sued governments for saying so. On the other hand, a document by tobacco company Philip Morris International says the company agrees that "smoking is addictive and causes serious and fatal diseases".
Dr Spiteri noted that at a meeting on Thursday, establishment owners were told that a particular person who spoke to a GRTU official insisted he might as well stop smoking because he was unable to smoke at work, was not allowed to smoke at home and now could not even smoke at the club he frequented.
Dr Spiteri said this was one of the aims of the smoking regulations - curbing the number of smokers. "That is what we want - that people stop smoking because it is not socially accepted," he said.
Medical Association of Malta (MAM) secretary general Martin Balzan said the evidence that second-hand smoke was harmful was "overwhelming". He said a recent publication by the British Medical Association received by the MAM included more than 1,000 pages of studies showing the harmful effect of passive smoking.
A joint publication by the British Medical Association's board of science and education and the association's Tobacco Control Resource Centre said second-hand smoke increased the risk of lung cancer by 20-30 per cent and the risk of coronary heart disease by 25-35 per cent. The 2002 report said that year the World Health Organisation International Agency for Research on Cancer classified second-hand smoke as a human carcinogen.
"We also know that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke and that adverse effects can be seen at low levels of exposure," it said, adding that certain people - namely children, pregnant women, people with cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease and those with asthma or other respiratory conditions - were particularly vulnerable.
The report said smoke-free public places protected and improved the health of non-smokers, while helping smokers to stop.
Dr Balzan said one also had to keep in mind that one per cent of the Maltese population suffered from severe asthma and inhaling tobacco smoke could be very detrimental to their health and also trigger an asthma attack.
He appealed for people to be courteous and smokers should think of non-smokers who could be bothered by cigarette smoke. On the other hand, courtesy should also be used when asking someone to refrain from smoking.