Children and Secondhand Smoke Exposure-Excerpts from The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2007
Remarks as prepared; not a transcript.
Rear Admiral Kenneth P. Moritsugu, M.D., M.P.H
United States Acting Surgeon General
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Remarks at press conference to launch Children and Secondhand Smoke Exposure - Excerpts from The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Children and Secondhand Smoke Exposure
Thank you for that warm welcome, Almeta.
Welcome. Thank you all for joining us this morning, and thanks especially to the Edward C. Mazique Parent Child Center for allowing us to be here.
We're here today for one simple reason: the health of our children is at risk in this country-at risk from the proven, undisputed dangers of exposure to secondhand smoke.
Sadly, children are powerless to protect themselves from this risk.
But we are not.
Parents, healthcare professionals, educators, caregivers, business owners, community leaders, and all of us in the public health community must act-and we must act now-to protect children from this very real threat.
Fortunately, we possess the scientific information we need to do just that and effectively safeguard the health and wellbeing of our young people.
The Surgeon General's 2006 report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, concluded without equivocation that secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in children.
Specifically, the report finds that children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (or SIDS), acute respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia, middle ear disease, more severe asthma, respiratory symptoms, and slowed lung growth.
The California Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that 430 infants nationwide die each year from SIDS as a result of secondhand smoke exposure and that another 202,000 episodes of asthma and 790,000 doctor visits for ear infections each year are attributable to this exposure as well.
Further, the Surgeon General's Report concluded that there is quite simply no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure, and-perhaps most disturbingly-the report documents that children in this country are more heavily exposed to secondhand smoke than nonsmoking adults.
In fact, the Report finds that 60 percent of U.S. children aged 3-11 years-nearly 22 million of our young people- are exposed to secondhand smoke.
This is unacceptable.
They are exposed to this health hazard in the places where they spend most of their time: at home, in cars, at child care centers, and in a multitude of public places including restaurants.
As parents, neighbors, healthcare professionals, and government officials-as a society-we want nothing but the best for our children. We want them to be safe and to grow up healthy.
Yet, we continue to allow our children to regularly breathe a substance that contains more than 50 cancer-causing chemicals.
We are allowing them to be exposed for hours at a time to a substance that makes healthy children sick and sick children even sicker.
We can do better.
Starting this morning, it is my hope that we can refocus the nation's attention on the need for immediate action to protect children from this totally preventable health hazard.
Today we are announcing two new educational resources and two major national initiatives that are intended to provide parents, pediatricians, childcare providers, and community leaders with the facts and tools they need to keep our children safe.
We are fortunate to be joined by Daniel Schneider, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Administration for Children and Families; Elizabeth Cotsworth, Director of the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Radiation and Indoor Air; and Dr. Jay Berkelhamer, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who will be announcing two ambitious national initiatives to reduce children's secondhand smoke exposure.
I am confident that these initiatives, which they will detail for you shortly, will act as catalysts for other organizations to launch their own efforts to address this serious public health problem.
The first publication we are releasing today consists of key excerpts from the 2006 Surgeon General's report: The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke.
This special excerpt documents the various ways in which secondhand smoke exposure harms children's health and details approaches that are effective in protecting children. The findings in this excerpt provide the scientific foundation for our efforts in this area.
We are also announcing a new resource entitled Sabemos, the Spanish phrase for "We Know."
Sabemos is a bilingual, culturally competent resource developed by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help Hispanic/Latino families protect their children from secondhand smoke exposure.
I am pleased to note that we are also in the process of preparing two similar educational resources—one targeting African American families and another for a general audience of parents and caregivers.
Sabemos is an excellent example of how we can translate the science into culturally appropriate and accessible messages that can be effectively delivered into people's homes and communities.
Now I will turn it over to Assistant Secretary of the Administration for Children and Families, Daniel Schneider, and Director of the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, Elizabeth Cotsworth. Their announcement will be followed by Dr. Jay Berkelhamer, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
[Daniel Schneider and Elizabeth Cotsworth, followed by Dr. Jay Berkelhamer speak at the microphone]
Thank you. We certainly look forward to these initiatives truly making a difference in our children's lives.
As we've just heard, we all have a role to play in making the places in which our children live, learn, and play smoke-free. The ways to achieve this are not complicated, nor are they beyond our reach. In fact, they're quite simple.
Let's make our homes and vehicles smoke-free at all times. If there are smokers in your family, they should always go outside to smoke. Opening a window is not enough.
Let's be certain that our children's day care centers and schools are 100% smoke- and tobacco-free.
Let's do our best to bring our children to public places like restaurants that are completely smoke-free.
Let's insist that no one smokes around our children.
Finally, let's remind smokers that the single best step they can take to protect both their family's health as well as their own is to quit smoking.
While quitting can be difficult, a number of proven resources are available to help—including a range of FDA-approved medicines and the National Network of Quitlines, which is accessible by calling 1-800-QUITNOW. And smoke-free home rules not only keep our children safe, but also make it easier for smokers to quit.
Just ask Tezrah Thomas, who's here with us today.
She is not only a Head Start parent who made a commitment to improving her own health by quitting, but also to that of her family by making her home smoke-free. Let's give her a round of applause.
I would also like to recognize Dr. Matthew McKenna, Director of CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. The Office on Smoking and Health has played an integral role in tobacco prevention and control, and has been instrumental in the release of this excerpt and today's event.
In closing, I must point out that we have achieved great progress in this nation in protecting nonsmoking adults from secondhand smoke by dramatically reducing their exposure. At the same time, children continue to represent a disproportionate burden from this exposure.
While the new publications and initiatives we've announced today represent very real steps forward in the fight to protect our children from secondhand smoke, we all have a role to play and an obligation to act if we are to make greater strides still.
By "connecting the dots" and working together, we can educate parents and caregivers, empower health care providers, and inspire community leaders to make informed decisions that will protect all children in this country from the serious health effects of secondhand smoke.
Thank you again for being here today. I would like to especially thank Almeta Keys, Executive Director of the Edward C. Mazique Parent Child Center, for sharing this wonderful facility with us today.
And of course, thank you to all of the teachers, parents and staff for your commitment to educating and protecting our children from this health threat-and to the children for being so attentive and engaged and, of course, for your wonderful artwork showing smoke-free homes.
Now, we're going to take some photos, and then I'll excuse myself as the children have invited me to see their classroom.