You do not smoke because you understand the dangers – but what about smoke you involuntarily inhale? Secondhand smoke causes or contributes to various health problems, including heart disease and lung cancer. Understand what passive smoking is all about and think about ways to protect yourself and those you love.
What is in secondhand smoke? Passive smoke – also known as tobacco smoke for the environment – includes the smoke exhaled by a smoker (mainstream smoke)) and the smoke directly from the burning tobacco product (sidestream smoke). Secondhand smoke contains toxic chemicals, including:
- Ammonia used in detergents
- Butane used in lighter liquids
- Carbon monoxide contained in automobile exhaust gases
- Chromium used in the manufacture of steel
- Cyanide, used in chemical weapons
- Formaldehyde, an industrial chemical
- Lead, a poisonous metal
- Polonium, a radioactive substance
The dangerous particles in secondhand smoke may remain in the air for hours or more. However, it is not just the smoke that gives cause for concern. The residues that adhere to the hair and clothing of a smoker, as well as pillows, carpets and other goods – sometimes referred to as secondhand smoke – can pose a risk especially for children.
How risky is secondhand smoke?
Secondhand smoke causes or contributes to serious health problems, including:
- Cancer. Secondhand smoke is a known risk factor for lung cancer. In addition, secondhand smoke contains benzene – which increases the leukemia risk.
- heart disease. Passive smoke damages the blood vessels and disturbs the circulation, which increases the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. Recent research suggests that passive smoking also increases the risk of sudden cardiac death.
- lung disease. Passive smoking can exacerbate respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) risks for children who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke. The problems include:
- Low birth weight. Exposure to secondhand smoke during pregnancy increases the risk of low birth weight.
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Secondhand smoke increases the risk of SIDS.  Asthma and respiratory diseases. Passive smoking increases the risk and severity of childhood asthma. Secondhand smoke also causes chronic cough, phlegm and respiratory distress.
- infections. Children living with smokers are more likely to develop bronchitis and pneumonia.
Further studies are needed Cigarettes also put off considerable levels of aerosolized nicotine.
How can passive smoking be avoided?
Planning helps reduce or eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke. Start with these simple steps:
- Do not allow smoking in your home. If family members or guests want to smoke, ask them to step outside. Air conditioners and ventilation systems do not remove used smoke from the air.
- Do not allow smoking in your vehicle. If a passenger needs to smoke while traveling, stop as necessary for smoke breaks outside the car.
- Insist that smoking bans be enforced at work. Many states have laws against smoking at work.
- Choose facilities for smoke-free care. This applies to childcare facilities as well as facilities for older adults.
- patronize companies with non-smoking policies. Choose smoke-free restaurants. Request non-smoking rooms when traveling.
If you have a partner or other loved one who smokes, offer support and encouragement to quit smoking. The entire family will benefit from the benefits.
Release date: 2002-01-28