UTHCT physician wrote part of recent Surgeon General’s report on secondhand smoke

Thursday, July 20, 2006

David Coultas, MD, physician in chief and chair of medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, was a contributing author to the recent U.S. Surgeon General’s report on the effects of secondhand smoke.

“The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke” finds that even brief exposures to secondhand smoke can cause harm. Dr. Coultas wrote about the respiratory effects in adults from exposure to secondhand smoke in one of the report’s 10 chapters.

According to the report, nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke have a 25 to 30 percent higher risk of developing heart disease and a 20 to 30 percent higher risk of developing lung cancer. Almost half of the U.S. population is regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, the report says. The report concludes that the only way to protect nonsmokers from the toxic chemicals in secondhand smoke is to eliminate smoking indoors.

“Secondhand smoke is a preventable cause of death and illness. In the United States, an estimated 50,000 deaths from heart disease and lung cancer, along with hundreds of thousands of illnesses in children – including middle ear infections, bronchitis, and pneumonia – are attributed to secondhand smoke exposure,” Dr. Coultas said.

Dr. Coultas reviewed experimental and observational studies of the effects of secondhand smoke exposure conducted in the past 25 years. He found evidence suggesting that secondhand smoke can cause symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing among people with asthma as well as healthy people. Evidence also indicates that secondhand smoke may have a role in adult onset asthma and may make it harder for people with asthma to manage their disease.

“The first comprehensive review of the scientific evidence on the health effects of secondhand smoke exposure was in the 1986 Surgeon General’s report. Since then, the evidence of adverse health outcomes from passive exposure to smoking has grown tremendously,” Dr. Coultas said.

“The evidence reviewed in the just-released 2006 report strongly establishes that, as the report puts it, ‘secondhand smoke causes premature death in children and adults who do not smoke,’ ” he said.

NOTICE: Protected health information is subject to electronic disclosure.