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Secondhand Smoke: More Dangerous than You Think

What is Secondhand Smoke? *

The secondhand smoke definition is tobacco smoke that is involuntarily inhaled. There are two components to second hand smoke: Mainstream smoke and sidestream smoke.  Mainstream smoke is the tobacco smoke exhaled from the smoker.  Sidestream smoke comes from the burning end of cigarettes, cigars, and pipes.

Sidestream smoke has higher concentrations of the carcinogens (cancer causing agents) and nicotine than mainstream smoke. It also has smaller particles, making it more dangerous than mainstream smoke making it easier to enter the lungs and blood stream. Non-smokers who are exposed to second hand smoke take in a higher amount of the chemicals and nicotine. Because of this, it is not the same as mainstream smoke. (American Cancer Society)

Dangers of Secondhand Smoke *

The American Cancer Society states that tobacco smoke is a made up of gases and particles containing more than 7,000 chemicals, 250 of which are harmful and 69 cause cancer that they know of.

secondhand smokeTobacco smoke is linked to cancers in children such as leukemia, lymphoma, and brain tumors. It is also linked to cancers in adults in the pharynx, larynx, brain, bladders, stomach, rectum, breast, and sinuses. A rare liver cancer (hepatoblastoma) is believed to start in children of smokers even before they are born (in utero). The risk to children is twice as high in children with one parent that smokes and if both smoke, it is 5 times higher, than in children of non-smokers.

Though still being studied, second hand smoke is believed to increase the risk of breast cancer. Cancer has been found in rodents when the chemical composition levels (found in both sidestream and mainstream smoke) are high enough. The chemicals in tobacco smoke is excreted through breast milk.

One of the reasons the tobacco smoke – breast cancer connection is still being studied is that the difference has not yet been established between smokers and those who are exposed through second hand smoke.

Secondhand Smoke Statistics *

  • In the United States alone about 42,000 heart disease deaths are in people who do not smoke.
  • There are nearly 7,000 non-smoking adults who die from lung cancer each year.
  • In about 1 million children asthma and related problems are worse in children exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • There are between 150,000 and 300,000 lung and bronchus infections in children under 18 months annually. Between 7,500 and 15,000 are hospitalized.
  • Children exposed to second hand smoke are more likely to be hospitalized with the flu, stay longer, and be put on breathing tubes than those who are not.
  • More than 10 billion is spent in the U.S. on second hand smoke related illnesses, extra medical care, and deaths every year.

Workplace Facts about Secondhand Smoke *

  • Secondhand smoking in the workplace costs the U.S. economy 5.6 billion in lost productivity
  • Non-smokers are at an increased risk for health problems when exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace.
  • The level of secondhand smoke found in restaurants and bars is 2-5 times higher than in homes with smokers, and 2-6 times higher than office workplaces.
  • Casino levels are exposed to hazardous levels of the carcinogens in workplace secondhand smoke and increases in their bodies as the shift goes on. – National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
  • Smokers who are attempting to quit have a higher success rate when they work where smoking is prohibited.secondhand smoke

More Secondhand Smoke Facts *

  • A Chinese study found suggests that secondhand smoke exposure is linked to increased risk for severe dementia syndromes.
  • IN the UK a study found that pregnant women exposed to second hand smoke during their pregnancy were more likely to experience depression while pregnant.

While studies have linked second hand smoke to mental and emotional changes, more research is needed to understand the connection of second hand smoking to dementia and mental health.

Effects of Secondhand Smoke *

According to the American Lung Association, more than 7,300 deaths from lung cancer and almost 34,000 deaths from heart disease each year are related to second hand smoke. There is no safe level of exposure to second hand smoke; any exposure, even short-term, increases the risk of a heart attack.

There are more than 24 million American children exposed to secondhand smoke. It is responsible for 430 sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths each year. There are 790,000 visits to the doctor’s office each year for children because of fluid building up in the middle ear as a result of second hand smoke, and 202,000 asthma flair ups in children.

50 Years of Surgeon General Reports *

There have been 32 reports by the U.S. Surgeon General’s office since 1964 relating to the use of tobacco and secondhand smoke exposure. The research in these reports support the fact that tobacco and secondhand smoke are linked to preventable serious health problems.

The reports find that:

  • Non-smoking adults and children both get diseases from secondhand smoke exposure.
  • Non-smoking adults and children die from exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Pregnant women who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk of having a miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth-weight babies, and pregnancy and delivery complications.
  • Secondhand smoke exposed babies and children are at risk for death from sudden infant death syndrome, increased lung, upper respiratory, and ear infections, and more asthma related problems.
  • The chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage sperm which may cause infertility which may cause damage to developing fetuses. So far the damage has been found in rodent testing. More testing is being done to determine the damage to human sperm.
  • Parental smoking can cause slow lung growth in their children, along with coughing, wheezing, bronchitis and pneumonia.
  • Non-smoking adults actually have less exposure to secondhand smoke than children.
  • There are immediate effects on the heart, blood vessels, and circulatory system that over time can cause strokes, heart disease, and heart attacks as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • People who have never smoked get lung cancer from secondhand smoke, even with brief exposure. That risk is estimated to increase by 20% to 30% by living with a smoker.
  • Prevention of any smoking indoors is the only way to fully prevent secondhand smoke exposure. The use of air filtration systems, venting rooms, and/or separating smokers and non-smokers is not enough to protect people from secondhand smoke.
  • In spite of the many laws being passed to protect adults and children from secondhand smoke, at least half of adult non-smokers and more than half of children are still being exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes and workplaces.

Places of Exposure *

Since anyone exposed to secondhand smoke can develop diseases and serious illnesses, the most important thing you can do is to eliminate all smoking in the home. Growing children suffer illnesses that can become life threatening. Trips for medical care, missed school, lost time from work to care for a sick child all add up.

Multi-housing units are hardest of all to control since secondhand smoke travels through ventilation and air cleaners are not effective enough to eliminate the chemicals circulating throughout the building from the smoke. The smoke travels in areas beyond ventilation, such as crawlspaces, floorboards and elevator shafts.

Toxins build up quickly in vehicles, even if the window is opened a crack for ventilation. Children are especially susceptible to these toxins. It is safest to not allow smoking in the car at all. In fact, some cities have made it illegal to smoke in a vehicle where there are passengers.

People are still subjected to smoke in the workplace. Since workplaces are not all public spaces, smoking may not be banned there. Again, secondhand smoke cannot be eliminated by separating the smokers and non-smokers, use of air cleaners or other air filtration systems, etc., which means the building is still full of smoke. Prohibiting smoking in the workplace helps smokers use less tobacco, and may even help them to quit altogether.

There are still cities where smoking in public places has not been banned, even in daycare centers and other places where children are likely to be. Choose smoke-free businesses and let those that are not know that secondhand smoke is too harmful to your family.

There have not been enough studies on the lingering odors of cigarette smoke to know if it causes cancer, but the chemical particles do combine with other chemical compounds found in the air from other sources. These settle on clothing, upholstery, carpets, toys, etc. The new combination of chemicals is more dangerous than they are alone. Because children tend to put things in their mouths and they play on the floor, it is imperative that toys and floors be cleaned often. The chemicals can be removed from material by simply washing ones clothing or cleaning the upholstery.


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