Everybody is well aware of the ill-effects of smoking, but what about the consequences of secondhand or passive smoking? Here are some facts about secondhand smoke.
Tobacco-related diseases are considered the biggest killers in today’s world. Over 500,000 people die every year in the United States, due to smoking-related diseases. Apart from this, every year, around 40,000 to 65,000 deaths are caused by secondhand or passive smoking. What is secondhand smoke? Is it harmful enough to cause death in people who have never smoked in their life? Let us find out the answers in the following paragraphs.
Secondhand smoking is the involuntary inhalation of secondhand smoke from tobacco products. Secondhand smoke is classified into two types – mainstream and sidestream. Mainstream smoke means the smoke inhaled and exhaled by the smoker, and the sidestream smoke consists of smoke released from tip of the lit cigarette. Secondhand smoke, otherwise known as passive or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), diffuses in the surrounding air, which is inhaled by people in the vicinity.
People were unaware of the harm caused by secondhand smoke, till the latter half of the twentieth century. Even though the first anti-smoking campaign started in the 1920s, the studies and debates regarding health risks from secondhand smoke gained momentum only during the 1970s. Awareness about the health risks associated with such smoke lead to smoking bans in public places, in many countries. The following are some medical conditions caused by frequent or long-term exposure to secondhand smoke:
- While secondhand smoke is found to cause lung cancer in some non-smokers, it also increases the risk of other types of cancer, like breast cancer and renal cell carcinoma.
- It is directly linked to heart diseases, like reduced heart rate variability, higher heart rate, and atherosclerosis.
- Secondhand smoke increases the risk of asthma, bronchitis, and ear infections. It can also worsen asthma, allergies, lung infections, and tuberculosis.
- It can cause cognitive impairment and dementia in people above the age of 50.
- In case of pregnant women who are exposed to secondhand smoke on a regular basis, there is an increased risk of premature birth. Passive smoking may cause an abnormally low birth weight in newborns.
- It is suggested that secondhand smoke can cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). It is also linked to tooth decay in children.
According to experts, second smoke is carcinogenic, and both non-smokers and smokers are exposed to the same carcinogens. It is also proved that secondhand smoke contains around 4,000 chemicals, including 69 carcinogens, like lead, formaldehyde, benzene, arsenic, and radioactive polonium-210. Secondhand smoke contains more nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar, as compared to the smoke inhaled directly from cigarettes. Exposure to this smoke for a short duration of around 10 minutes, can affect the cardiovascular system; which in turn affects the heart rate and the blood pressure.
Secondhand smoke has been categorized as the third leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. Many countries have enacted legislation to ban smoking in workplaces and public places; but individual effort is required to tackle this problem. It is important to make people aware of the health risks associated with smoking and secondhand smoke. Let us all try to spread this awareness, and make the world a better place to live in.