The harmful effects of smoking on smokers has been known for years, but it has only been in the past two decades that scientists have focused on the effects of secondhand smoke on those who "passively" smoke, or those who are unwittingly exposed.
While the correlation between smoking and disease is easy to quantify, it is more difficult to prove causation when disease is a result of exposure to secondhand smoke. However, scientists have been able to prove a relationship between certain conditions and exposure to secondhand smoke and various organizations have begun an all-out campaign to make the public aware.
Secondhand Smoke affects The AdultsThere are several conditions associated with smoking and, by extension, passive exposure to smoking:
Lung cancerSmoking is known to cause lung cancer in smokers. Lung cancer may also occur in non-smokers as a result of inhaling secondhand smoke, which contains more than 4,000 substances, many of which are known to be carcinogenic in humans. It is estimated that more than 3000 non-smokers die every year as the result of lung cancer caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.
Other cancersCervical and bladder cancer are two cancers that have been shown to occur in higher frequencies in people who have been exposed to secondhand smoke. Although people typically think of lung cancer when they think about cancer caused by cigarette smoke, other cancers are also more common in both smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke.
Heart diseaseIt is well known that cigarette smoking causes heart disease in smokers, namely atherosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries". Smoking is related to hypertension, which also increases the risk of heart disease. Inhalation of harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke leads to plaque formation in the arteries that supply the heart with blood and oxygen. When the heart is deprived of oxygen, a heart attack (myocardial infarction) may occur. People who don't smoke but who are exposed to second-hand smoke are also at higher risk for heart disease. Exposure to secondhand smoke that is continuous has been shown to almost double the risk of heart attack.
StrokeA stroke occurs when a blood vessel that supplies oxygen to the brain becomes blocked, depriving the brain of oxygen. When the brain is deprived of oxygen, the area affected will die. Depending on where the damage occurs, sufferers of stroke may experience various effects, such as weakness on one side of the body, vision problems, gait disturbances, balance issues, and difficulty swallowing or speaking. Strokes can be devastating and may cause death or a lifetime of disability. People who are constantly exposed to secondhand smoke are at higher risk for suffering a stroke.
Non-cancerous lung diseaseAsthma, chronic bronchitis and frequent colds have been shown to be directly related to exposure to secondhand smoke. People with these conditions who live with smokers or work in smoky environments are more prone to worsening of these conditions. Emphysema, a progressive and incurable condition affecting the lungs, occurs in people who are chronically exposed, as well as in smokers. There is no cure for emphysema, which causes destruction of the small air sacs of the lungs called alveoli. Destruction of these tiny air sacs causes air to become trapped in the lungs. Sufferers experience shortness of breath that progressively worsens.
SIDSSudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also commonly known as crib death, is more common in babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke. In fact, researchers have measured the levels of nicotine found in the lungs of infants who have succumbed to SIDS and have found that infants exposed to secondhand smoke have significantly higher levels of nicotine present. There is a two-fold increased rate of SIDS among infants whose mothers are smokers.
Ear infectionsEar infections, or otitis media, are more common in children who live in households where one or both parents smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke may result in an increase in fluid in the middle ear. Children of smokers may be hospitalized more frequently for ear infections and may need tubes placed in the ear (myringotomy) more often than children who do not live with smokers. Repeated infections of the middle ear can result in permanent loss of hearing.
Breathing difficultiesChildren who live with smokers may develop asthma, experience frequent chest infections, and are more prone to croup. When they develop these illnesses, they are often more resistant to treatment and may take longer to feel well again. Secondhand smoke has been linked to a small but statistically significant decrease in overall lung capacity in comparison to peers of the same age who live in non-smoking households.
Low birth weightBabies born to smoking mothers or to mothers who live with smokers are often born at a lower weight. This is due to the fact that smoking, whether actively by the mother or passively by the infant, reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients reaching the baby via the placenta. Studies have shown that babies may have a smaller brain, a smaller head, a shorter stature or an overall lower birth weight. The fact that cigarette smoking can cause low birth weight has been known for years and is the major reason that women are encouraged to quit smoking before they become pregnant.
Children of smokers often become smokers themselvesChildren who grow up with smokers are more likely to pick up the habit themselves. This is reason enough to want to quit smoking and to avoid secondhand smoke!
Secondhand smoke contains numerous chemical substances that are harmful to your health. To reduce the risk of these health hazards, make your home a smoke-free zone, including your personal vehicle. If you live with someone who smokes, ask them to smoke outside. Reducing your exposure to secondhand smoke will decrease your risk of developing cancer, heart disease, lung disease and stroke, to name a few of the risks associated with passive smoking. Safeguard your children's health by providing them with an environment free from smoke, and talk to your children about the dangers of smoking.