Everyone knows that smoking is bad for heath. What is less obvious is the effect smoking has on those who are exposed to it secondhand. Smoke from a burning cigarette doesn’t get sucked down into a smoker’s lungs and disappears — it is exhaled back into the air, where it can be inhaled by people nearby.
What is secondhand smoke? Also known as passive smoke or environmental smoke, it is the smoke exhaled by a smoker. In Malaysia, the source of most secondhand smoke is from cigarettes, followed by pipes, cigars, and other tobacco products. Secondhand smoke exposure is measured by testing indoor air for nicotine or other chemicals in tobacco smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke can also be tested by measuring the level of cotinine (a by-product of the breakdown of nicotine) in a non-smoker’s blood, saliva, or urine. Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke have been found to contain nicotine, cotinine and carbon monoxide in their body fluids.
Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals and more than 50 of them are known to cause cancer. They include toxic chemicals arsenic, benzene, beryllium (a toxic metal), butadiene (a hazardous gas), cadmium, chromium, ethylene oxide, nickel, vinyl chloride, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide, ( a poisonous gas found in car exhaust). There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Even low levels of secondhand smoke can harm the body.
DANGERS OF SECONDHAND SMOKE
Constant exposure to secondhand smoke affects the cardiovascular system by making the blood stickier, which leads to coronary heart disease. In the United States, secondhand smoke causes more than 46,000 premature deaths from heart disease every year. Research has shown that non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work raises their risk of developing heart disease by 25 percent. Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke damages the lining of blood vessels. Therefore, patients with heart disease should avoid even short exposures
to secondhand smoke. Just as smoking causes lung cancer, inhaling secondhand smoke also have the same terrible consequences for adult non-smokers. It is shocking that in the United States, more than 3,400 non-smokers die of lung cancer every year because of exposure to secondhand smoke. The reason is simply because they are inhaling the same cancer-causing poisons as smokers.
Secondhand smoke has also been linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The term refers to the sudden, unexplained death of a healthy infant in the first year of life. Studies have shown that secondhand smoke increases the risk for SIDS. Just as smoking by pregnant women increases the risk for SIDS, infants are also in a similar danger when exposed to secondhand smoke. Scientists have postulated that chemicals in secondhand smoke may affect the brain in ways that interfere with the control of the infant’s breathing. Post-mortem of infants who died from SIDS have shown a higher level of nicotine and cotinine in their lungs than infants who died from other causes.
Parents can help protect their babies from SIDS by taking the following precautions: (1) do not smoke when pregnant; (2) do not smoke in the home or around the baby; (3) put the baby down to sleep on its back.
A fourth danger of secondhand smoke is that it can give rise to health problems in children. There is a correlation between older children getting sick more often and parents who smoke. The lungs of secondhand-smoke-exposed children grow less than those who do not, and the former group get more bronchitis and pneumonia. Wheezing and coughing are more common in children who breathe secondhand smoke. Another respiratory ailment that is linked to secondhand smoke is asthma. Children with asthma have more attacks when they are around secondhand smoke. A severe asthma attack can endanger a child’s life.
Children whose parents smoke around them are more prone to ear infections. They also have fluid in their ears more often and have more operations to put in ear tubes for drainage. Inhaled cigarette smoke irritates the Eustachian tube, and the consequential swelling leads to infections, which can lead to hearing loss in children.
Parents can help protect their children from secondhand smoke by taking the following steps: (1) disallow smokers to go near your child; (2) do not smoke or allow others to smoke in your home or car — opening a car window does not protect your children from smoke; (3) if you send your infant to a nanny or child-minder; make sure she and her family members are non-smokers; (4) avoid taking your child to restaurants or other indoor public places that allow smoking; (5) teach your children about the dangers of secondhand smoke and avoid it.
In fact, children face a higher risk of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke than adults because their breathing rate is faster. Adults breathe in and out approximately 15 times a minute, whereas newborns breathe around 60 times a minute. A five-year child still breaths quite fast; usually between 20 and 60 breaths per minute. Thus, when the air is contaminated with secondhand smoke, the lungs of young children receive a higher concentration of inhaled toxins than do the lungs of adults.
Last but not least, the University of Rochester Medical Center has found that secondhand smoke causes infertility. Constant exposure to secondhand smoke can damage a woman’s eggs, leading to infertility or miscarriage. In a study of 5,000 non-smoking women conduced by US-based Tobacco Control, it was found that those who were exposed to secondhand smoke (40%) for six or more hours per day faced a 68 percent greater chance of having difficulty in conceiving and had suffered more miscarriages.
So, stay away from smoke-filled places and smokers and enjoy healthy living.