It is well known that smoking comes at a high health risk.
Whether you are an active smoker or you are exposed to secondhand smoke , tobacco leads to a variety of complications as well as long term effects in the body.
Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals. At least 250 of these have been found to be harmful including acetone, tar, hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia.
According to WHO,at least 69 of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke are cancerous.
While smoking increases the risk of health problems over the course of several years, some of the effects on the body are immediate.
But what about second hand smoke? Is being a passive smoker dangerous and does it put you at any risk ?
Before we dig into the details, let’s first define what it means to be a passive smoker.
What is second hand smoke and what does it mean to be a passive smoker?
Passive smoking means breathing the tobacco smoke from an active smoker, or in other words breathing in secondhand smoke.
Secondhand smoke (SHS) or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is a combination of mainstream and sidestream smoke. Mainstream smoke is the smoke that is exhaled by the smoker. Sidestream smoke is the smoke that drifts from a lit cigarette.
Even though the risks of smoking are well known, smoking is still very common.
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 14 out of 100 people are active smokers. Over 34 million adults in the US population smoke, and 58 million non smoking Americans are exposed to secondhand smoke.
Chances are that if you don’t smoke yourself, you probably have someone around you that does.
Whether that’s someone at home, at the office or amongst friends, we are all exposed to secondhand smoke , and sometimes not even aware that we are passive smokers.
This is a serious health concern that is affecting both adults and children.
Second hand smoke health effects
There are no safe levels of exposure to secondary smoke.
According to a study published by Multidisciplinary Respiratory Medicine, being a passive smoker could be as harmful to your health as you being an active smoker.
Continuous exposure to secondhand smoke has shown to be the cause of many health conditions.
The most common are :
- Cardiovascular disease(high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, stroke)
- Those who are exposed to secondhand smoke are 20-35% higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and heart attack, according to the CDC.
- A link has also been found between high blood pressure and exposure to SHS.
- Lung severe conditions (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, asthma)
- Passive Smokers are more likely to develop asthma and experience lung conditions.
- If you already have asthma, exposure to secondhand smoke can make your symptoms and condition worse.
- Increased risks to cancer ( lung, throat, breast, bladder etc)
- Long term exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cancer. Frequently being in the presence of a smoker, whether that is someone at home or in the office increases risk of lung cancer up to 30%.
- Other cancers associated with exposure to secondhand smoke the: mouth, throat, voice box (larynx), oesophagus (the tube between your mouth and stomach), breast, bladder, cervix, kidney, liver, stomach & pancreas.
When it comes to children and secondhand smoke, their bodies are even more vulnerable to the chemicals and toxins that come from a burning cigarette. Children have little control and are exposed to SHS if their families or caregivers are smokers. For children, limiting associated risks is even more challenging.
The health consequences of secondhand smoke in children include:
- Lung health problems ( asthma and delayed lung development)
- Respiratory infections (pneumonia and bronchitis )
- Ear infections (middle ear infections are most common)
- Constant cold or asthma and allergy like symptoms (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or sneezing and runny nose)
- Brain tumors
Pregnant women who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at higher risk of delivering children with low birth weights. The infant is also at a higher risk of : SIDS, limited mental ability, trouble with learning, and ADHD.
WHO states that 65,000 fatalities have been reported in children related to secondhand smoke. One of the best ways you can protect your child from the health associated risks with second hand smoke is to quit smoking yourself.
When do the damaging effects of secondhand smoke start?
Studies have shown that the damage of second hand smoke can begin within minutes of exposure.
- Within 5 minutes your arteries become less flexible, just as they do to the person who is smoking a cigarette.
- After 20 -30 minutes your blood starts clotting, and fat is deposited in the blood vessels. This can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
- After 2 hours your heart rate becomes irregular (arrhythmia), putting you at a high risk for developing a heart condition.
Precautions and lowering exposure to secondhand smoke
As public awareness rises and people become more educated on the harmful effects of cigarettes, the percentage of active adult smokers slowly drops. As non-smokers are becoming aware of the dangers of the exposure to SHS, there are many who believe that avoidance is a human right. Many states have enacted laws that prohibit smoking in common areas like restaurants, cafes, hospitals, schools and playgrounds.
Even though many smoking laws have been enforced the best way to protect your family is to take measures into your own hands. You can choose the environments where you spend the most time.
Here is a list of things that you can do to protect yourself and your family:
–Do not allow smoking in your home.
Take your smoking habits outside! Tobacco smoke easily drifts through the house, so limiting your smoking to one or two rooms is not an effective measure.
–Don’t allow smoking in your car.
The nonsmokers will still be exposed to tobacco smoke even if the windows are open.
–Avoid visiting facilities that allow indoor smoking.
–Consider investing in a high quality air cleaner for your office
It is common practice these days for offices to have smoking areas or smoking rooms. Having an Air Cleaner in your office comes with a lot of benefits, among which is reducing the risk of second hand smoke exposure. A high quality air cleaner that combines HEPA, and Activated Carbon cleans the air to the smallest particles and gases, removing up to 99.7% of all particles 0.3 microns in size.
–Make sure that all people who look after your children provide a smoke-free environment.
–Have in mind that Quitting Smoking is the way to protect yourself and your family from the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke.