You might not be a smoker but you might still be at risk with all the perils that smoking can come with through secondhand smoking.
Second hand smoking, also known as passive smoking or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), is being exposed to the smoke from the lighted end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar or the the smoke exhaled by a smoker.
Non-smokers who breathe in secondhand smoking take in nicotine and toxic chemicals by the same way smokers do. The more secondhand smoking you breathe, the higher the level of these harmful chemicals in your body.
Why is secondhand smoking dangerous?
Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemical compounds. More than 250 of these chemicals are known to be harmful, and at least 69 are known to cause cancer.
The following are some of the toxic chemicals you get exposed to in secondhand smoking:
- Ammonia, used in cleaning products
- Butane, used in lighter fluid
- Carbon monoxide, found in car exhaust
- Chromium, used to make steel
- Cyanide, used in chemical weapons
- Formaldehyde, an industrial chemical
- Lead, a toxic metal
- Polonium, a radioactive substance
These particles from secondhand smoke can linger in the air for hours or even longer and the residue that clings to a smoker’s hair and clothing, as well as cushions, carpeting and other goods can also pose risks, especially for children.
Secondhand smoke has been classified as a “known human carcinogen” by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US National Toxicology Program, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization.
- Second hand smoking has been linked to lung cancer and some evidence suggest that it may be linked with childhood leukemia and cancers of the larynx (voice box), pharynx (throat), brain, bladder, rectum, stomach, and breast. Brief exposure to SHS can damage cells in ways that set the cancer process in motion.
- In the US, SHS is linked an estimated 46,000 deaths from heart disease in people who are current non-smokers and bout 3,400 lung cancer deaths in non-smoking adults. SHS caused about 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections (lung and bronchus) in children under 18 months of age, with 7,500 to 15,000 hospitalizations each year.
- Exposure to SHS while pregnant increases the chance that a woman will have a spontaneous abortion, stillborn birth, low birth-weight baby, and other pregnancy and delivery problems.
- Babies and children exposed to SHS are at an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear infections, and more severe and frequent asthma attacks.
- Infants and children who are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke have an increased chance of having frequent colds, chronic coughs, ear infections, and might develop asthma, high blood pressure, and learning and behavior problems later life. Smoking by parents can cause wheezing, coughing, bronchitis, and pneumonia, and slow lung growth in their children.
- SHS immediately affects the heart, blood vessels, and blood circulation in a harmful way. Over time it can cause heart disease, strokes, and heart attacks.
- Chemicals in tobacco smoke damage sperm which might reduce fertility and harm fetal development
Secondhand smoking can occur anywhere, at work, at home, in your car, and specially in public places. The bad news is , there is no safe level of exposure to SHS. Any exposure is harmful. Millions of people around the world, both children and adults, are still exposed to SHS in their homes and workplaces despite a great deal of progress in tobacco control and public smoking policies.
What should you do to protect yourself and yur loved ones?
Unfortunately, separating smokers from non-smokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot keep non-smokers from being exposed to SHS.The most effective way to fully protect yourself from exposure to SHS is being aware of it and making conscious effort to avoid it. With planning, you can reduce or eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke.
You can do the following:
- Don’t allow smoking in your home and in your vehicle. If family members or guests want to smoke, ask them to step outside. If a passenger must smoke on the road, stop at a rest stop for a smoke break outside the car. Air conditioners and ventilation systems don’t effectively remove secondhand smoke from the air. Don’t keep ashtrays in your home.
- If you are visiting a smoker’s home with your children, try to socialize outside whenever possible.
- Insist that smoking restrictions be enforced at work. Many states have laws against smoking in the workplace. If smoking is allowed where you work, talk to your employer about modifying the company’s smoking policy or ask to work near other non-smokers or as far away from smokers as possible. Use a fan and open windows to ventilate your workspace.
- Choose smoke-free facilities and businesses with no-smoking policies. Only choose those with a no-smoking policy. Choose smoke-free restaurants. Ask to be seated in the non-smoking sections of restaurants, and suggest to the managers that they make the restaurants smoke-free. When you travel, request nonsmoking hotel rooms. Reinforce these no-smoking policies by telling the management that you prefer a non-smoking environment.
- Stay informed about any changes in federal, state, and local smoking laws and become involved in strengthening those laws.
If you have a partner or other loved one who smokes, offer support and encouragement to stop smoking. Your entire family will reap the benefits.