Side Effects Of Secondhand Smoke
Secondhand smoke emitted from burning tobacco products and exhaled by smokers is a serious health hazard that kills thousands of non-smokers every year. Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can have immediate negative health effects. Long-term exposure, on the other hand, can contribute to coronary heart disease, lung cancer, pulmonary disease, and strokes. Pregnant women, infants, children, and even pets are especially vulnerable to diseases caused by secondhand smoke.
It goes by many names – passive smoke, environmental tobacco smoke, and involuntary smoke. No matter what you call it, secondhand smoke is a significant health hazard that is widely ignored or misunderstood. If you’re a non-smoker and you think you’re immune to the ill effects of smoking, think again. Since 1964, a staggering 2.5 million non-smoking adults have died due to inhaling secondhand smoke in the United States alone!1
What Is Passive Smoking?
Secondhand smoke is a combination of smoke emitted from a burning tobacco product (“sidestream smoke”) and the smoke exhaled by smokers (“mainstream smoke”).2 When a person near you smokes a tobacco product, the smoke permeates the environment and you tend to breathe in secondhand smoke – that is, you are passive smoking.
Things To Know About Secondhand Smoke
Secondhand smoke has been shown to contain about 7000 chemicals, of which 250 are considered toxic and 69 have been shown to be carcinogenic!3
While most people know and understand today that smoking is extremely bad for them, not nearly enough people realize the extent to which secondhand smoke can wreak havoc on their health. No matter what your age or sex, secondhand smoke is unhealthy and dangerous for you. According to the Surgeon General of the United States, there is no “safe” amount of secondhand smoke that one can inhale. Inhaling even just a small amount can be hazardous to your health.4
If you thought your air conditioning system has your back, you’re wrong! Air cleaners and other air conditioning technologies at home, work, or commercial spaces cannot eliminate secondhand smoke or its toxic chemicals from your living spaces.5
Secondhand smoke contains the same noxious chemicals that are found in tobacco products. So when you’re near someone who’s smoking, you’re inhaling the same chemicals as them. Many of these chemicals are highly toxic and poisonous, and can seriously harm your health.
For instance, secondhand smoke contains:
- Cancer-causing chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene, and vinyl chloride.
- Toxic metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, and chromium.
- Poisonous gases like carbon monoxide, ammonia, butane, and hydrogen cyanide.6
Effects Of Secondhand Smoke On Your Health
Many people wrongly believe that if they don’t smoke, they don’t run the risk of developing health issues associated with smoking. In reality, however, even if you are occasionally exposed to secondhand smoke, you are breathing in the same cancer-causing chemicals and poisons as smokers. In fact, medical researchers widely agree that secondhand smoke is nearly as bad for non-smokers as smoking is for smokers.7 Here’s a closer look at the implications.
Secondhand Smoke And Heart Disease
Every year, in the US alone, heart disease caused by secondhand smoke causes about 34,000 deaths among non-smokers! Further, those who don’t smoke increase their risk of developing heart disease by as much as 25–30% when exposed to secondhand smoke.8 Being exposed to secondhand smoke can contribute to heart disease in the long run but it also has immediate effects on your cardiovascular system. Inhaling secondhand smoke interferes with the normal functioning of your vascular system, heart, and blood, which increases your risk of developing coronary heart disease. Even the briefest of exposure to secondhand smoke can cause your blood platelets to thicken and become sticky, and damage the lining of the blood vessels – factors that can cause heart attacks. People who already have a heart disease are especially susceptible to the negative effects of secondhand smoke.
Secondhand Smoke And Cancer
The US Environmental Protection Agency, Surgeon General, National Toxicology Program, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer all agree that secondhand smoke is a “known human carcinogen.”9 Secondhand smoke has been proven to cause lung cancer in adults who have never smoked, and non-smokers are 25-30% more likely to develop lung cancer when exposed to secondhand smoke. Annually, more than 7000 non-smokers die in the US alone due to lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke.
Secondhand Smoke And COPD
Inhaling secondhand smoke is known to increase the risk for developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as the chemicals from cigarette smoke get inside the lungs. In other words, exposure to secondhand smoke makes you more likely to develop breathing-related problems, including emphysema, asthma, and chronic bronchitis, which can damage your airways and impair lung function irreparably.10
Secondhand Smoke And Stroke
More than 8000 people die every year in the US from strokes caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.11 Studies have shown that secondhand smoke increases the risk of suffering a stroke by a whopping 30%!12
Secondhand Smoke And Pregnancy
Pregnant mamas would do well to move far, far away from anyone who’s smoking. A study conducted with over 80,000 women has shown that non-smoking women put themselves at greater risk of miscarriages, still births, and tubal ectopic pregnancy when exposed to secondhand smoke and the deadly chemicals it contains.13 Being exposed to secondhand smoke while pregnant also increases the likelihood of your baby having a lower birth weight.14
Secondhand Smoke And SIDS
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is something that terrifies every new mom. Now there’s evidence to suggest that secondhand smoke increases an infant’s risk of SIDS. In addition, poisonous chemicals found in secondhand smoke can affect an infant’s brain in a way that impedes normal breathing.15
Secondhand Smoke Effects On Children
Parents who smoke at home need to be mindful of the serious health risks that secondhand smoke poses to little minds and bodies. Babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to get pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections, lower respiratory illness, wheezing, coughing, and asthma attacks.16
Secondhand Smoke Effects On Pets
Secondhand smoke not only makes humans sick, it also has adverse health effects on our furry companions. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs exposed to secondhand smoke have higher levels of a nicotine byproduct called cotinine in their blood and have a higher risk of getting cancers of the sinuses and nasal cavity. Cats who breathe in secondhand smoke are also twice as likely to develop malignant lymphoma. Secondhand smoke also accumulates on your pet’s furry coats and when they lick themselves, they also end up ingesting harmful chemicals.17
How To Avoid Secondhand Smoke
Whether you know it or not, you have been exposed to secondhand smoke for no fault of yours. Even if you don’t see anyone smoking in your vicinity, you may still be exposed to secondhand smoke because it can linger in the air for hours even after a smoker has left a room. The only way to completely avoid inhaling secondhand smoke is to avoid any place where smoking takes place, which may not always be realistic.
That said, research shows that the majority of secondhand smoke exposure occurs at home. But a lot of it also occurs at restaurants, bars, cars, and other public areas.18 So here are some simple steps you can take to lower your and your loved ones’ exposure to secondhand smoke:
- If you live with someone who smokes, persuade them to quit and offer resources for help.
- Seek out entirely smoke-free places when you go out. Contrary to popular belief, sitting in a non-smoking section in a restaurant does not protect you from secondhand smoke.19
- If a friend starts to smoke near you, request them not to.
- Keep your car smoke-free. Do not allow anyone to smoke in your car (even with windows down) or in your home.
- Make sure your friends and relatives don’t smoke around your children. Same goes for nannies, daycare workers, and babysitters.
- Ask that and that any place your children spend time in (daycare, school, after-school programs etc.) are smoke-free environments.
- Teach your children about the dangers of secondhand smoking and to stay away from secondhand smoke.20
References [ + ]
|1, 2, 8, 11, 15.||↑||Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|3.||↑||Secondhand Smoke and Cancer. National Cancer Institute.|
|4, 6.||↑||The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.|
|5.||↑||Banishing secondhand smoke. Harvard University.|
|7.||↑||Banishing secondhand smoke. Harvard University.|
|9.||↑||Secondhand Smoke and Cancer. National Cancer Institute.|
|10.||↑||Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|12.||↑||Secondhand smoke boosts stroke risk. Harvard University.|
|13.||↑||Secondhand smoke exposure linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes. University At Buffalo.|
|14, 16.||↑||Secondhand Smoke. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.|
|17.||↑||Stop Smoking – For Your Health and Your Pets’ Health. American Veterinary Medical Association.|
|18, 19.||↑||Secondhand Smoke. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.|
|20.||↑||Avoid Secondhand Smoke. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|