By Kay Quinn, Healthbeat Reporter
St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - People exposed to secondhand smoke are exposed to the same chemicals and toxins a smoker breathes in.
In this week's '8 Ways to Prevent Cancer' segment, we answer the question: does secondhand smoke really cause cancer?
"There was a time when surgeons and physicians were smoking in the hallways of hospitals," says Dr. Ramaswamy Govindan, an oncologist at Siteman Cancer Center, "and if you had checked into Barnes Hospital in 1930 or '40 along with admission papers you would have been given a couple of match boxes."
In the decades since then medical science has recognized how dangerous breathing in someone else's smoke can be.
The American Cancer Society says it causes 46,000 heart disease deaths a year in non-smokers in this country. 3,400 lung cancer deaths in non-smoking adults.
"It's very hard to do those studies to say absolutely this is what's happening," says Dr. Govindan, "but I think knowing the biology and knowing the amount of second hand smoke and tobacco smoke people inhale from the second hand it's conceivable that these could damage the lungs easily."
It's repeated exposure that's the most dangerous. That's what smoking bans in planes and public places were designed to prevent.
"If you stand next to somebody in the train station and just inhale some smoke it's probably not going to do you any harm but if you do this day in and day out for years it probably will do you some harm," says Dr. Govindan.