Two in three Americans who never smoked regularly worry that exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke could cause serious health problems, especially cancer, according to an Associated Press poll.
The poll also found that 54 percent of Americans favor a complete ban on smoking in all public places. Most think that workplace smoking bans should be decided by employers and employees, not by law."The public is clearly sensitized to the health effects of secondhand tobacco smoke. I don't think that was the case five years ago," said Scott Ballin, a vice president of the American Heart Association and spokesman for the Coalition on Smoking or Health in Washington. The coalition is made up of the Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association.
Nearly half the 1,000 American adults surveyed March 13-17 said they had never smoked regularly. Of the rest, 26 percent said they had smoked in the past week, and 28 percent called themselves former smokers.
The telephone poll, taken by ICR Survey Research Group of Media, Pa., has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Sixty-seven percent of those who had never smoked said they worried about the health effects of passive smoking. Of that group, 68 percent were worried about cancer, while 8.5 percent were worried about heart disease.
"I think we need to do more on the dangers of secondhand smoke and cardiovascular disease," Ballin said. Evidence linking secondhand smoke to heart disease is not as strong as that regarding lung cancer, but it is growing, he said.
Last year, an article in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association, estimated that passive smoking causes 53,000 deaths per year, including 37,000 from heart disease.
"People do not know nor do they understand about smoking and coronary disease. Even people who have had a heart attack don't understand," said Diane Becker, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Promotion in Baltimore.
A draft Environmental Protection Agency report found that cigarette smoke causes cancer in non-smokers and may be an important cause of bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma in children.
Support for a ban on smoking in public places came from 70 percent of people who had never smoked and 59 percent of former smokers.
Health advocates have pushed for laws restricting workplace smoking and have succeeded in many cities and towns.
The AP poll found that 36 percent favored such laws, while 63 percent thought workers and their employers ought to decide whether to allow smoking.
Among non-smokers, 47 percent favored laws guaranteeing a smoke-free workplace and 51 percent said workers and employers should decide. Of the smokers in the poll, 81 percent said workers and their employers should decide.