The human cost of passive smoking

In a stark BMA report, 'The Human Cost of Tobacco', published today, (9 November 2004), doctors chronicle individual stories behind the statistics to show how second-hand smoke destroys lives and health.

One person dies every two weeks in Northern Ireland due to inhaling other people's tobacco smoke; this figure increases to 1,000 when taken across the UK.

The report is a UK snapshot of the misery second-hand smoke brings to patients and the examples given for Northern Ireland, as with the rest of the UK, are disturbing.

Local doctor, Dr John O'Donnell, gives a distressing example: "At present I have a patient recovering from cancer surgery who is literally scared to death of returning to work because their normal working environment is heavily smoke filled."

Another describes a very distressed patient for whom cigarette smoke triggers extreme breathing difficulties. Colleagues in the patient's workplace smoke. The employer has requested staff to stop smoking but to no avail and can do little more.

Dr Peter Maguire, Deputy Chairman of the BMA's Board of Science, is also quoted in the report. He describes his recent visit to a close family friend in New York who is a bar owner and is now dying from a sinus and throat cancer. Dr Maguire says: "He has never smoked but until lately worked in smoky bars. The smoke free legislation in New York has come too late to save him. When I left New York I knew I would never see him alive again. He is one of many people who have been harmed by smoky environments. The New York law is working well and is accepted, as it has been in Ireland."

Dr Maguire says that the Secretary of State for NI must take action now and introduce a ban on smoking in enclosed public places. "As an anaesthetist I see various problems - including cancer, cardiovascular illnesses, respiratory disease, heart disease, strokes and many other diseases - resulting from cigarette smoking, both active and passive.

"The serious damage to health and loss of life that second-hand tobacco smoke inflicts must be stopped. The BMA has campaigned for more than 20 years to introduce controls on smoking in all enclosed public places. It is not about restricting civil liberties; it is about protecting workers and non-smokers from the effects of environmental tobacco smoke. There is no more time for delay."

The BMA in Northern Ireland recently delivered 500 letters to the NI Secretary of State, Paul Murphy MP, from NI doctors across all specialties, including medical students, calling on him to introduce legislation in the province, similar to that now implemented in the Republic of Ireland. They were also joined by politicians from across the parties, trade unions and other healthcare organisations.

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