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Japan Smokers Killing 15,000 Non-Smokers Per Year

SNA (Tokyo) — Dr. Douglas Bettcher, the Director of the World Health Organization’s Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases Program, explains the true scope of danger posed by second-hand smoke.

Video Transcript: According to recent studies, surveys here about 120,000 people die of tobacco use, but there’s a new Lancet Burden of Disease study that puts the figure higher, probably over 160,000, but the figure I want to focus on is also the number of deaths separately from exposure of non-smokers to secondhand smoke. It’s estimated about 15,000 people die needlessly from exposure to other people’s smoke, therefore, as innocent bystanders. These people are mainly women and children. It’s absolutely rock solid scientific evidence that secondhand smoke causes heart disease, myocardial infarcts, lung cancer, contributes to strokes.

We know that secondhand smoke contains about 4,000 different chemicals, a few hundred very toxic chemicals and about 50 carcinogens and the smoke actually in a hotel room or a car or whatever embeds into fabrics, into couches, into rugs, etc., and can live there for very long periods of time, and it’s certain then it migrates back into the air as well and it definitely has health harm effects.

In the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare draft legislation, they’re talking about ventilation and designated smoking rooms. Well, scientific evidence has shown that these are definitely not effective. Rigorous, rigorous empirical studies over the last decade have demonstrated that ventilation and designated smoking rooms do not prevent exposure to secondhand smoke and remember we’re talking about a Class A carcinogen and also a very cardio toxic substance here. I mean secondhand smoke, for example, would be equivalent to asbestos. Allowing asbestos to freely float around in a restaurant or bar, no owner, no employer, no government would agree to have asbestos floating around in a public space or workplace. So this idea of designated smoking rooms needs to be examined very very carefully and it shows that smoking anywhere in a building significantly increases concentrations of secondhand smoke even in parts of the building where people do not smoke.

The microparticles get through the ventilation system and cross throughout buildings and between rooms. Physically separating smokers from non-smokers by allowing smoking only in designated smoking rooms reduces secondhand smoke exposure by a small amount but it does not provide full protection. Comprehensive smoke-free laws are the only effective means of eliminating risks associated with secondhand smoke and ventilation techniques should not be relied upon to control health risks from secondhand smoke exposure.

We often hear from the hospitality sector. We did in the Spanish example. We hear in all countries where they’ve moving towards comprehensive smoke-free bans that “it’s going to hurt my business, you’re hurting my business.” Owners are worried that it’s going to hurt my business, that their customers are going to disappear, etc. Now WHO has just released the largest and in fact this is only the executive summary. The report is actually 700 pages and we couldn’t have carried it in the room actually. It’s the largest study ever of the economics of tobacco and tobacco control and as part of that we’ve analyzed as well smoke-free policies and especially the economics of smoke-free policies and their effects on businesses and it’s been showing conclusively that comprehensive smoke-free policies do not have negative effects or consequences for businesses including restaurants and bars. This is a myth. For example, the area of restaurant sales, studies from US, Australia, Norway, Canada, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina are showing that enacting smoke-free laws does not lead to decreased revenues for restaurants. Some have even reported increased sales.

As well, too, we should really remember that this is about, this is really an occupational health and safety issue. When you’re talking about bars and restaurants and factories and offices as well, too and this was one of the key messages that Michael Bloomberg and his staff when he was mayor of New York when he introduced the Clean Air Act early in this century. They emphasized that this was an occupational health and safety matter. It’s about protecting the lives and health of workers and staff as much as it is customers.

The first country ever to become a hundred percent smoke-free was Ireland in 2004 and the former Director General of WHO, Dr. Lee, said in fact if Ireland could do it, any country in the world could do it because he said the way that the Irish really valued their smoky pubs and as meeting places, etc. that if they could do it any country in the world can do it and in fact now, 49 countries and territories in the world will become a hundred percent smoke-free over the next ten years and we’ll have some new figures this summer to show that they figure the number of countries is gathering pace.

Video transcribed by Chris Rathbone of Smoke Free 2020 Tokyo Olympics.