From a scientific standpoint, the story of exposure to secondhand smoke has been purposely muddled by pro-smoking advocates. These pro-smoking critics try to poke holes in the previous epidemiological research studies linking smoke exposure to long-term adverse health effects, such as cancer and heart disease.
What the pro-smoking critics seem to forget is that the health effects of most of the pollutants that make up secondhand smoke – such as fine particles, carbon monoxide, benzene, PAHs – already are well-known and documented in environmental science.
The pro-smoking critics also tend to ignore various acute, but still significant, health effects caused by the toxic pollution in secondhand smoke, such as an increased severity of asthma, respiratory infection, and simple irritation of the eyes or throat.
Prior to the enactment by cities, counties, and states of recent environmental laws designed to protect public health, the adverse effects of these pollutants already were documented and their effects were well-understood.
As we have seen, the enormous mass of pollutants generated by a single cigarette causes persons close to a smoker or living in the same house to be exposed to pollutant concentrations that are many times higher than those permitted outdoors under existing environmental laws. Any reasonable person must ask, "Does it make sense to set uniform national standards under the Clean Air Act for the maximum pollutant concentrations allowed in the ambient air, while at the same time exposing children and adults in homes, automobiles, and restaurants to pollutant levels many times higher than these standards?"
The potency of the cigarette in violating clean air standards has been greatly underestimated by pro-smoking advocates. This fact needs needs greater attention and understanding by the public. The potency of the cigarette as a generator of high concentrations of toxic pollutants that can cause cancer and other long and short-term health effects argues strongly for restricting smoking in public places as a matter of prudent public policy.