New stats reveal consequences of second-hand smoke

A U.S.  Surgeon General’s report reveals startling new data on second-hand smoke just 15 months before a smoking ban in multi-unit housing complexes is set to take effect in Culver City.

The 2014 report found that since 1964 there have been 20 million smoking-related deaths in the United States and 2.5 million of those deaths were among non-smokers who died from exposure to secondhand smoke. During the same 50-year period, 100,000 babies have died due to parental smoking, which includes smoking during pregnancy, according to the study.

Representatives of the Coalition for Smoke-Free Living in Culver City lobbied for the municipal non-smoking ordinance in multi-unit housing that was passed on Oct. 27, 2014 and which highlighted the effects of second-hand smoke on those living with smokers as well as tenants who might live in a neighboring apartment.

Dr. Clark Fuller, a lung cancer specialist and thoracic surgeon at Saint John’s Medical Center in Santa Monica says working to prevent lung cancer has become a special passion for him.

“While we’ve made progress in combating lung cancer, unfortunately there is still an ignorance related to the disease,” Fuller asserted.  “People often think once they stop smoking after years and years that their chances of getting cancer decrease.

“And nothing can be further from the truth.”

Despite bans on smoking in condominiums and townhomes, restaurants and government buildings, lung cancer remains the number one cause of cancer deaths worldwide and is the leading cause of cancer among both men and women in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute, the five-year survival rate for those with the disease is 16 percent-16 out of 100 diagnosed with lung cancer will still be living five years after being diagnosed.

Lung cancer specialists have found that one in five women who have never smoked have been stricken with cancer.

“There seems to be a subset of women who are susceptible to lung cancer, especially from second-hand smoke,” Fuller explained.

In multiple studies, second-hand smoke has been linked to lung cancer and in December, research gathered during the National Lung Screening Trial found that smokers who have a computerized tomography, or CT scan to check for lung cancer have a nearly one-in-five chance that doctors will locate and potentially treat a tumor that would not have caused illness or even death. Fuller is an outspoken advocate of the scan, especially for patients who are long time smokers. “National studies have shown that it is an effective screening tool,” he said.

One March 10, the federal government announced that Medicare will cover the costs of CT scans for long time smokers. In order for the procedure to be covered, smokers and former smokers must have a written order from a physician or qualified practitioner

Researchers say a new drug could signal a breakthrough in lung cancer treatment and was expanded on March 5 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat patients with advanced squamous non-small cell lung cancer.

The FDA approved Opdivo in December, which functions by preventing the cellular corridor known as PD-1 protein on cells that blocks the body’s immune system from attacking cancerous cells.

“This approval will provide patients and health care providers knowledge of the survival advantage associated with Opdivo and will help guide patient care and future lung cancer trial,” said Dr. Richard Pazdur, director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research in a FDA release.

Not all patients are able use drugs to help eradicate or arrest their cancer. “Surgery remains an effective alternative for a localized area. But some of the new drugs on the market have improved dramatically,” he said. “They are much more effective now.”

Gary Walker contributed to this story.