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By Deborah Ng
Secondhand smoke refers to the smoke that comes from the burning end of the cigarette as well as what is exhaled from a smoker’s mouth. Though a person who inhales secondhand smoke isn’t puffing directly on a cigarette, there are still plenty of risks associated with regularly inhaling it.
People who inhale secondhand smoke are still taking in the same harmful chemicals as the person who is smoking.1 Adults who smoke around children put them in danger of having smoking-related health problems.
Though many businesses now ban smoking, there are still numerous situations in which you're still at risk of inhaling secondhand smoke. For example, if a nonsmoker joins smoking friends when they go out for a cigarette that person gets exposed to harmful smoke. Even passing through a smoking area poses a risk.
The Danger of Secondhand Smoke
According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke causes 41,000 deaths and 7,300 lung cancer deaths per year.2 3 Exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to cancer, asthma, and cardiovascular disease. And it doesn’t matter if the exposure is long-term or over a brief period of time; inhaling chemicals from secondhand smoke can still be a health risk.²
People who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke bear a higher risk of having a stroke or heart attack than people who don't inhale any smoke at all.² In fact, inadvertently breathing secondhand smoke can trigger a heart attack.² There’s also a possibility that secondhand smoke causes leukemia, brain tumors, and liver cancer.¹ Some studies even show a link between secondhand smoke and depression, and scientists are continuing to study the connection between mental health and secondhand smoke.1
Like cigarette smoking, breathing secondhand smoke means inhaling chemicals that aren’t meant for human consumption.² Secondhand smoke contains formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, and arsenic ammonia, just to name a few.2
Secondhand Smoke and Children
Secondhand smoke especially presents a serious risk to children. People who smoke in their homes and cars, or even in their backyards when kids are present, are placing their children at risk for contracting asthma or complicating existing cases of asthma.
Children of parents that smoke can get sick more often and have more ear infections.3 They also contract more serious respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia. In addition, there's a relationship between secondhand smoking and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).²
Inhaling secondhand smoke while pregnant can lead to miscarriage, low birth weight, and even premature birth. The longer a pregnant woman is exposed to secondhand smoke, the more serious the risks are to her and her unborn child.4
Minimizing the Risk of Secondhand Smoke
The only way to prevent the risks of secondhand smoke is to not allow smoking in your home, car, or place of employment and avoid being around people who smoke.
Ask your friends and family members not to smoke in your presence or anywhere near your children. Avoid drinking or dining in places that still allow smoking, and avoid businesses that allow customers and employees to smoke. It should stand to reason that you should avoid designated smoking areas at all costs. If you’re pregnant, stay away from people who are smoking for your benefit and for the sake of your unborn child.
Make sure your children are also aware of the risks related to secondhand smoking and encourage them to avoid homes where teens or parents smoke, or areas where people may be smoking.
1 “Health Risks of Secondhand Smoke.” American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/tobacco-and-cancer/secondhand-smoke.html.
2 “Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke.” American Lung Association, www.lung.org/stop-smoking/smoking-facts/health-effects-of-secondhand-smoke.html.
3 “Smoking & Tobacco Use.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Jan. 2017, www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/health_effects/index.htm.
4 “The Dangers of Secondhand Smoke.” HealthyChildren.org, www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/tobacco/Pages/Dangers-of-Secondhand-Smoke.aspx.