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A Not-So-Passive Threat
In the bars and restaurants of Santiago, Chile, small signs printed by tobacco companies call for compassion for smokers. Let’s be free and happy together, the signs implore. Let’s share this space. 
    Unfortunately, tobacco smoke, a known human carcinogen, shares a space only too well, dispersing through a room and infiltrating the lungs of nonsmokers. “People can detect the presence of a smoker, but the question is determining what risk that might present,” says Patrick Breysse, PhD ’85, MHS ’80, an Environmental Health Sciences professor. In addition to secondhand smoke’s long-term hazards like lung cancer and heart disease, short-term exposure can exacerbate lung problems and trigger asthma attacks. 
    To collect data on passive smoking in Latin America, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Global Tobacco Control and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have sponsored a study measuring nicotine levels in the air in public places in seven countries. Researchers can monitor the amount of nicotine in the air by placing small plastic cylinders called passive monitors in a room. The monitors hold a filter paper chemically treated to react with nicotine, says Breysse. They are placed in unobtrusive places in cafeterias, bars, schools, or other public buildings for one to two weeks and then returned to Breysse’s lab in Baltimore where a gas chromatograph is used to measure the amount of nicotine collected. This in turn reveals the amount of passive smoke exposure in the seven countries being studied: Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Chile.
    Results from the pilot study done in June 2002 in Peru have already been presented to a Peruvian congressional committee studying smoking, according to Ana Navas Acien, coordinator for the study and an Epidemiology PhD student from Spain. Final results from the countries will be presented at a global tobacco conference in August. 
    “If we reduce smoking in public places, we reduce the health risks for nonsmokers,” says Navas. “We can also help people [keep] from starting to smoke. They won’t see it like it’s part of the society. When smoking is everywhere, they think it’s normal to smoke.” —Brian W. Simpson

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