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Second-Hand Smoking Facts and Side Effects
Second-hand smoke is an extremely hazardous health risk to non-smoking individuals. Most of the smoke that comes with burning a cigarette goes into the air around a smoker rather than toward the smoker itself. Thus, the exposure of the combination of small particles, chemicals, and gases when a cigarette is lit up has affected adults and children alike all around the world. Therefore, it is crucial to understand second-hand smoking and the effects and risks you take being around people who smoke.
What Is Second-Hand Smoking?
Second-hand smoking – otherwise known as passive smoking – is the inhalation of smoke from burning cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or smoke exhaled by smokers, which have then been mixed with the surrounding air.
Burning cigarettes generate a bypass of smoke, accounting for 85% of second-hand smoke as they produce a “sidestream” that has been emitted from the burnt tip, while smokers who exhale the “mainstream” smoke contribute about 15% to second-hand smoke.
The Dangers of Second-Hand Smoking
Over the years, passive smoking has posed serious health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and other diseases, in both children and adults who do not smoke. Involuntarily smoking is particularly harmful to children and babies because their lungs are still developing. Furthermore, since their bodies are not yet fully grown, it is harder for them to combat the harmful effects of passive smoking. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds, of which 250 are toxic and are known to cause disease. The smoke also contains more than 50 carcinogenic substances, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. While the risk and severity of the damage are dependent on factors such as the type of tobacco used, the age of the user, and the level of exposure to smoke, 1.2 million people have died prematurely due to the exposure of second-hand smoke annually.
The Side-Effects of Second-Hand Smoke
Second-hand smoke affects different groups of people in various manners. Let’s take a look at some of the side-effects you might experience.
Be it a colleague in a workplace, someone you live with, or even random people at social gatherings, adults are likely to be exposed to smokers. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. This means that there is a likelihood that you or someone you know is surrounded by people who are unwilling to stop smoking. Yet, this puts you at significant risk of a lot of potential dangers to your health. Some examples are:
- Heart Disease: According to the American Heart Association, exposure can lead to an increase in bad LDL cholesterol, which then allows the lining of the blood vessels to be damaged. Thus, this begets blood platelets to get stickier, which can increase the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke. This can occur within just 20 – 30 minutes of exposure time. Further exposure can lead to arrhythmia, which is an irregular heart rate, which can also trigger a fatal cardiac attack. Over an increase in exposure through the course of a period of time, the development of heart disease may also occur. Any pre-existing high blood pressure can also get worse.
- Respiratory Disease and Lung Cancer: When someone smokes a cigarette, it goes into the air you breathe, and directly into your lungs. This puts you at risk of infections and diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, tuberculosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It also increases the risk of lung cancer by 30%. In fact, statistics show that non-small cell lung cancer patients who have involuntarily smoked have reduced overall survival and progression-free survival rates. Furthermore, more than 7,300 non-smoking adults in the United States of America have died due to lung cancer from 2005 – 2009 through second-hand smoke exposure.
- Mental Health Risks: Not only does second-hand smoking affect your physical health, but it also impacts your mental health. Research has been conducted that suggests that there may be a correlation between second-hand smoking and Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Other studies have also proposed that there is a link between depression and exposure to passive smoking. However, further studies need to be conducted in order to get a more thorough understanding of our mental and emotional state with smoking.
- Other Conditions: There are also other conditions that can affect you aside from those mentioned above, such as eye and nasal irritation, breast cancer, leukemia, and erectile dysfunction in males.
In Babies and Children
Unlike adults, kids may not have the exact same choice that adults do to avoid smokers. For example, they may live in a household where one of the parents smokes indoors. As much as possible, it will be best to shelter infants and children, as they are highly susceptible to vulnerable health, even more so than adults. Additionally, children breathe at a faster rate than adults and are at a higher risk of getting sick due to the fact that their lungs are still growing. Some issues that may arise are:
- Lung Health Effects and Infections: Lung development may be delayed and may also cause a new case of asthma in a child who was completely healthy before. If the child already has asthma, attacks may be more frequent if privy to second-hand smoke exposure. This also makes them more likely to have chronic coughs, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Seeing pneumonia and bronchitis in kids who are exposed are also common. Second-hand smoking has brought about 150,000 to 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in children below the age of 18 months, thus leading to up to 15,000 annual hospitalizations.
- Ear infections: These can be frequent and can even be chronic. These usually occur in the middle ear. This fluid build-up has resulted in 790,000 doctor’s visits every single year.
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): These are usually unexplained deaths of a baby that is less than a year old. However, second-hand smoke does leave a greater danger for babies to go through this.
- Other Conditions: Aside from the symptoms mentioned above, other experiences you may find in a child exposed to second-hand smoking are: learning and behavioral problems, poor dental health, cataracts, and a greater tendency for these children to grow up to be smokers too.
Protection From Second-Hand Smoke
The best way to protect yourself from second-hand smoke is really to eliminate or be entirely away from it, as even brief exposure can be fatal for your well-being. However, there may be times they are inevitable. Your government may not be implementing proper “no public smoking” regulations, your workplace may not have “smoke-free” policies, or maybe someone in your home just will not stop smoking. Hence, this gives more opportunities for you to, unfortunately, pass by a stream of tobacco and nicotine.
Here are a few tips that can help you out in case you will ever have to be among smokers:
- Quit Smoking: It is at the utmost importance that smoking is stopped completely, whether by you or someone you know. Your home should be a smoke-free environment, especially if you have kids. It is crucial to educate and reiterate about the risks of second-hand smoke, and continuously help the smoker through the journey of quitting smoking altogether. This is the best way to protect yourself but, most importantly, the ones you love.
- Keep Your Home Smoke-Free: In the process of the individual who is trying to quit smoking, there may be times that they might slip up. So, having an air purifier at home, having a proper ventilation system, or keeping the windows open are some things people may try to do. Do keep in mind, though, that this does not eliminate any toxic chemicals and deposits. You will still be exposed to the smoke, and therefore doing so actually probably does really little to none.
- Inform Any Visitors: If you have guests over, a babysitter, or a caretaker, they must be advised beforehand that they should avoid smoking on the premises at all costs. However, if they really must smoke, they should do it all the way outside and have a separate jacket that will act as a layer to avoid having toxins get on their clothes, which might expose others to “third-hand smoke.”
- Avoid Having Your Kids Over At a Smoker’s Home: Kids socializing and interacting with other children are essential for their development. Nonetheless, they may have a friend that lives in a place where he is exposed to a smoker. If this is the case, try to have the playmate over to your home instead or have meetings outdoors in a playground, or the like.
- Speak with HR: Giving the idea to implement smoking policies will actually benefit you and the company. In fact, $5.6 billion cost the economy each year due to lost productivity. Implementing a program that could support your fellow employees to quit really is advantageous. Though this may be easier said than done, at least asking if you could move to another workspace where you are surrounded by non-smokers instead can also do the trick.