Secondhand Smoke: A Threat to Everyone

Second-hand smoking
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What is secondhand smoke? Secondhand smoke (SHS) is any smoke not inhaled by a smoker that is instead inhaled by non-smokers, which can lead to the development of heart or lung disease, even cancer. The burning of any tobacco product, whether outside or in the home, creates secondhand smoke, which is a serious threat to the health of anyone exposed to it.

There are two kinds of secondhand smoke made by burning tobacco. One is mainstream smoke, which is what a smoker exhales when they are smoking. The other is sidestream smoke, which comes from the lit end of a cigarette, cigar, hookah or a pipe or any other burning tobacco product. Prevention of SHS exposure, which can lead to the development of smoking-related diseases, is possible through quitting cigarettes and a national campaign to create smoke-free environments.

Table of Contents

Secondhand Smoke Myths Debunked
Effects of Secondhand Smoke
Putting Children at Risk
Prevention
What Is Secondhand Vapor
Secondhand Smoke FAQ


Secondhand Smoke Myths

Most people think they have done everything possible, other than quit, to protect themselves, their health and the health of others from the risks of secondhand smoke like heart disease and cancer. There are some myths and bad information going around concerning passive smoking from burning tobacco.

With different types of health information going around on secondary smoke from tobacco, it is common to find that some of the information is misleading.

    PREVENTION MYTHS THAT HAVE BEEN SET STRAIGHT:

  1. Smoking in a different room is safe for the health of non-smokers.
  2. Fact: Even if a person smokes in a different room it is not free from the gases that can pass through cracks, vents, and other openings, and reach other people.
    This means that smoking in the next room still puts the non-smoker at risk of inhaling the smoke involuntarily.

  3. Using air purifiers will protect people’s health from passive smoke
  4. Fact: Getting an air filter or purifier does not mean that you have removed anything except the smell. Most of the filters only eliminate the smell of cigarettes.
    This means that you will inhale the same cancer-causing fumes even if you have an air filter or purifier.

  5. Using a fan or opening a window gets rid of the secondhand smoke.
  6. Fact: No level of ventilation can get rid of cigarette fumes and all its residue.
    Proper ventilation will reduce the irritation caused by the gases inhaled but will not get rid of all the cancer-causing toxins released from the lit cigarette.

  7. The health of unborn babies is not affected by cigarette smoke or fumes in the womb.
  8. Fact: NCBI studies show that there are several toxic chemicals in cigarettes that can affect the health of an unborn child. These chemicals affect normal growth and development of an unborn child.
    It increases the risk of a child being born prematurely, stillborn and a baby being born with congenital disabilities.

  9. Smoking when no one is around is safer for everyone’s health.
  10. Fact: Cigarette smoke lingers in the air even after the cigarette is off, so it is not free of chemicals.
    This means that those who smoke in the home and the car still put others at risk of exposure, which over time, can potentially lead to heart disease and cancer.

Effects of Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoking carries most of the same health dangers as regular smoking, like developing smoking-related diseases and cancer. The same carcinogenic chemicals that are found in regular smoke that also lead to heart and lung disease, also exist in secondhand smoke. While the rate of some at which a non-smoker is exposed to smoke is lower than that of a smoker it is by no means negligible and still poses a threat to their health .

The extent to which secondhand smoke plays a factor in lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases amongst non-smokers is troubling, to say the least.

Studies indicate that every year as many as 42,000 cases of heart disease amongst non-smokers are related to secondhand smoke. Every year 7,000 cases of lung cancer deaths amongst non-smoking adults can be attributed to secondhand smoke.

Signs of exposure to secondhand smoke:

  • Irritation
  • Weak immune system
  • Increased risk of getting cancers
  • Heart disorders
  • Fertility problems

Secondhand Smoke and Its Effects on Children

Secondhand Smoke and Children
Zabavna/Shutterstock

What is a health risk associated with secondhand smoke exposure to infants and children? Through prevention, adults can limit their exposure to passive smoke from burning tobacco. Children cannot. Exposure does not only affect adults and unborn children but affects children after they are born. Children are highly sensitive to the toxins found in tobacco and getting exposed to these carcinogens can cause the following physical and mental health problems.

  • The toxins compromise the immune system which makes them more prone to suffering from infections like colds.
    The child is likely to suffer from asthma and other respiratory infections.
  • According to the CDC, exposure to the mist produced during smoking can increase their chances of getting ear infections. These infections can have severe effects on a child’s health especially if they are not treated early, or they keep inhaling the toxins on a regular basis.
  • Studies also revealed that toxins found in tobacco have been linked to several cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome which is where a child sleeps and does not wake up. There is no specific cause of SIDS, but newborn babies exposed to these toxins have a higher rate.

Minimizing the Risk

The health risks of passive smoking, like developing heart disease, increase proportionately with the amount of smoke you are exposed to, although there is no safe level of exposure, which is why prevention is key. Vaporizers are not a viable alternative since there is no consensus on whether the effects of the vapor emitted from them is completely safe or free from toxins.

When you are a child, you obviously have no choice about whether or not you are exposed to smoke. Public health and safety campaigns may be more effective in encouraging parents and other adults not to smoke in the presence of children.

Involuntary smoking can be limited in the following places:

  • Public health campaigns encourage people not only to quit but to avoid smoking in public places to protect non-smokers.
  • Adults are encouraged not to light their cigarettes in the presence of children.
  • Policies that prohibit smoking in public places including workplaces, parks, government buildings, schools, bars, and restaurants.
  • Families are encouraged to quit smoking. If they do not or cannot quit, they can reduce exposure by not smoking in cars and at home.

By limiting exposure, people can protect themselves and their families and keep them healthy by ensuring they are not likely to be in an environment forcing them to inhale cancer-causing fumes involuntarily. They can also eliminate exposure to potential smoking-related diseases if they quit.

Secondhand Vapor: Harmful or Not? A Summary of Key Findings

Secondhand Vapor
bedya/Shutterstock

Secondhand vapor is the aerosol exhaled by a vaper using an electronic cigarette. E-cigarettes emit no sidestream vapor as there is no combustion. Only the vapor exhaled by a user of an e-cigarette is released and inhaled by bystanders.

What Studies Say About Risks of Secondhand Vapor

The studies conducted within this field are innumerable, but there is little (if any) evidence that suggests any health risks associated with secondhand vapor (aerosol) exhaled from an e-cigarette. Conversely, numerous studies show a lack of correlation between secondhand vapor and adverse health effects. Let’s fleetingly take a look at some of these studies:

NICOTINE WITHOUT SMOKE

This study from the Royal College of Physician is quick to dispose of any claim that secondhand vaping is associated with any harm to the health of nonusers. In this report, the authors agree that users of e-cigs exhale a vapor that may be inhaled by others, leading to passive exposure to nicotine.

However, as their study suggests, no direct link or evidence demonstrates that such passive exposure is likely to cause any significant harm to health.

PEERING THROUGH THE MIST

Peering Through the Mist remains one of the best and comprehensive studies on e-cigarettes and their benefits and potential harm to date. It is a systematic literature review funded by CASAA conducted by Drexel University’s Igor Burstyn.

The researcher extracted more than 9, 000 studies on e-cig vapor from the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Search database and evaluated the findings. Burstyn tried to estimate the potential exposures from secondhand vapor from e-cigs and compare those potential exposures to occupational health exposure standards. He concluded that, although risks from e-liquids may emerge in the future, the exposure to the bystanders are of less magnitude, and therefore pose no apparent concern.

NICOTINE EXPOSURE

Nicotine exposure is the only potential risk that is exhaustively highlighted by the vaping activists. They argue that e-cigarette cartridges may contain toxic amounts of nicotine which might pose dangers to children when they are kept or disposed of unsafely. Others argue that nicotine on indoor surfaces can lead to thirdhand exposure through ingestion, inhalation, and skin long after the aerosol has cleared the room.

Supporting this claim, a certain study suggests that the exhaled nicotine can remain on the surface, which may react with ambient nitrous acid to produce cancer-causing TSNAs (tobacco-specific nitrosamines), leading to ingestion, inhalation, dermal exposure to carcinogens. However, plentiful studies show e-cigarette vapor dissipates very quickly and can therefore passive vaping possess very little risk if any. Other studies show that indoor air and normal exhaled breath contain more volatile organic compounds than the e-cigarette vapor!

Passive Smoking FAQ

HOW LONG DOES SECONDHAND SMOKE STAY IN YOUR SYSTEM?

The cancer-causing chemicals in secondhand smoke, never leave your system. The CDC, the WHO and the National Cancer Institute, all categorically state that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, which thereby negates the possibility that any amount of time could counter their harmful effects to a person’s health.

CAN YOU GET SECONDHAND HIGH?

Not really.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the possibility of getting “high” from secondhand marijuana smoke is low to non-existent. Unless you are in a room completely engulfed in marijuana smoke, there is no evidence showing that you will be affected by the THC in marijuana.

The same goes for the supposed “nicotine buzz” smokers get when they smoke tobacco. Nicotine is not among the chemicals released by sidestream, or secondhand smoke, making it impossible that you would feel the same effects of nicotine that smokers feel.

HOW MANY PEOPLE DIED FROM SECONDHAND SMOKE?

The CDC estimates that close to 2,500,000 non-smokers have died due to health issues, and smoking-related diseases caused by secondhand smoke.

Annually:

  • The WHO estimates 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year in the United States are a direct result of secondhand smoke from burning tobacco.
  • The National Cancer Institute believes that the number of deaths related to heart disease brought on by exposure to secondhand smoke is 34,000.

HOW FAR DOES SECOND HAND SMOKE TRAVEL?

The CDC has shown that the nicotine levels of children living in multiple unit residences like apartment buildings is 45% higher than children living in single family homes.

This is due to the fact that secondhand smoke from combusting tobacco can travel under doorways, through ventilation systems and cracks in the walls.

Published: July 9, 2015 Updated: March 26, 2019

Secondhand Smoke: A Threat to Everyone
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One comment on “Secondhand Smoke: A Threat to Everyone
  • L
    November 3, 2017 at 8:11 pm

    Thanks, I have been diagnosed with secondhand smoke damage and it is incredible the number of people who don’t take this serious, including your loved ones.

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