Amid growing evidence that secondhand smoke is causing cancers and possibly a range of other health problems in pets, many groups are intensifying efforts to encourage people to stop smoking — if not for their own sake, then for their animals’.
Veterinarians are redoubling efforts to warn smokers of the dangers to their pets, and smoking-cessation programs, including Utah Tobacco Prevention and Control, Breathe New Hampshire and smokefreesociety.org, have posted fact sheets or printable fliers on their websites. Some groups are sharing information where animal aficionados gather, including at last month’s Dachshund Dash in Oklahoma City, where the Oklahoma County Tobacco Use Prevention Coalition warned of secondhand smoke’s dangers to dogs.
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And the ASPCA last month linked up with American Legacy Foundation, a stop-smoking group, to spread the word to the pet lovers of the world.
Studies have shown that toxins in secondhand smoke can cause lung and nasal cancer in dogs and malignant lymphoma in cats.
“The evidence is striking,” says Steven Hansen of the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center.
“Most veterinarians believe pretty strongly secondhand smoke presents a strong danger to dogs and cats with pre-existing respiratory problems,” he says. “And extrapolating, why would you expose a healthy animal?”
Although studies showing strong links between smoking and pets are limited to a few cancers, veterinary oncologist Aarti Sabhlok, who treats 40 or more cancer patients a week at San Francisco Veterinary Specialists, believes an “animal in an environment with constant exposure to a toxin, and that would includemarlboro cigarettes/, could be at greater risk of developing tumors.”
It may seem odd to believe that people who continue to smoke despite the risks to themselves and others might pay heed when pets’ health is jeopardized, “but we know people sometimes pay more attention to their pets’ well-being,” Hansen says.
Indeed, a Web-based survey of 3,293 adult pet owners published last year found that 48% were smokers or living with smokers, and 37% said clear evidence that smoking is harmful to their pets would motivate them to quit or ask the people they live with to quit; 14% said such evidence could prompt them to do all their smoking outside.
“We want people to have the facts,” Hansen says. And “if a person needs one more reason to stop smoking, maybe this is it.”
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