Secondhand Smoke: It Really Does Kill
Smoking is such a harmful habit that it hurts not only the smoker himself but also the people around him. We’ve all heard the warnings about secondhand smoke. Passive exposure to smoke from cigarettes is often hazardous to the health; in some cases, secondhand smoke is even more dangerous that the smoke exhaled by smokers. This is particularly true for people who live with chronic smokers and for people who spend a lot of time in environments where smoking occurs.
So if you’re a non-smoker who regularly keeps the company of smokers, don’t fall into the trap that you’re safe from the effects of smoking just because you’re not the one sucking down tar and nicotine.
What is secondhand smoke?
Smoking produces two kinds of smoke: mainstream smoke and sidestream smoke. Mainstream smoke is exhaled by the smoker, while sidestream smoke – also called secondhand smoke – is emitted from the lit end of a cigarette. Both mainstream and sidestream smoke are rich in toxins and harmful chemicals, including benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide. It doesn’t matter whether you smoke cigarettes, cigars, or even pipes; as long as you’re burning tobacco, you’ll get the full effect of these toxins.
While both mainstream and side stream smoke are hazardous to the health, medical experts say that secondhand smoke can be more dangerous because it has a higher content of cancer-causing particles. There are over 7,000 chemicals in side stream smoke, and at least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer.
Secondhand smoke and its health risks
Long-term exposure to secondhand smoke causes widespread damage to your body. Understandably, your respiratory and cardiovascular systems take majority of the damage. Non-smokers who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke are 25% to 30% more likely to develop lung cancer. Secondhand smoke also makes you more prone to respiratory infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Of course, the risk of complications typically associated with asthma is also much greater. The effects are worse if you have weak lungs in the first place.
Prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke also makes you more susceptible to heart attacks. In fact, a smoker and a non-smoker regularly exposed to secondhand smoke have nearly the same increased risk for heart attacks. Studies by the Institute of Medicine have also found that a heart attack can be triggered even by short-term exposure to secondhand smoke.
As many as 3,000 non-smokers die each year, as a result of sharing a living space with chronic smokers. Medical experts also say that up to 50,000 deaths each year are caused by heart attacks triggered by exposure to secondhand smoke.
Aside from making you more prone to cancer and causing life-threatening damage to your lungs and heart, inhaling secondhand smoke also weakens your immune system. Some preliminary studies also found links between secondhand smoke and breast cancer.
Women who are planning to get pregnant should also be wary about exposure to secondhand smoke, since this can cause infertility. The findings of a study by researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center indicate that women who have been exposed to secondhand smoke for at least six hours a day since childhood were significantly (68%) more likely to have difficulties conceiving. Similarly, these women are also more likely to suffer from miscarriages at least once.
Perhaps one of the worst things about smoking and secondhand smoke are their harmful effects on children. Children, after all, often have no choice when it comes to their exposure to secondhand smoke.
In some cases, the exposure to smoke starts as early as the womb, as many mothers refuse to quit smoking even when they’re expecting. Prenatal exposure to the chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause babies to be born severely underweight. In many cases, expecting mothers who prefer to continue their smoking habits give birth to premature babies who are more prone to sickness and who may suffer from developmental problems down the line. Babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke are also more prone to contracting ear infections and are more vulnerable to sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS.
Understandably, young children develop chronic asthma as they grow up in a smoking household. Statistics say that secondhand smoke causes asthma in as many as one million children. Children who are routinely exposed to secondhand smoke also have weak immune systems and are more susceptible to bronchitis, pneumonia, and other upper respiratory and lung infections.
Minimizing the harmful effects of secondhand smoke
The good news is that health authorities all over the US are spearheading public health and safety campaigns aiming to discourage smoking in public, particularly around children. Some cities have passed ordinance banning smoking in indoor spaces, including offices, government buildings, and restaurants and bars.
For instance, in Colorado, such public health ordinances reduced hospital admissions for heart attacks by 27%. Similarly, the incidence of heart attacks in Helena, Montana was reduced by 40% after a smoking ban. No matter the success rates in these cities, though, some cities choose to overturn these smoking-related bans and ordinances, especially for public places. Such was the case for the city of Casper in Wyoming.
The best way to minimize or even completely avoid the harmful effects of secondhand smoke is to limit your exposure to it. Avoid hanging out in smoking areas. If you live in a household of smokers, try not to be around the smokers when they partake of the habit. You can even choose to go as far as encouraging them to quit, for the sake of everyone in the household.
Secondhand Smoke: It Really Does Kill