Secondhand smoke: A danger in the air

By BethAnn Cameron, U.S. Army Public Health CommandNovember 14, 2012

Putting it out
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Do you know if the following statements are true?

•Nonsmokers who live with smokers are more likely to develop lung cancer.

•If you have asthma, secondhand smoke can make your breathing problems worse.

•Children exposed to secondhand smoke in the home are more likely to have ear infections.

The answer is yes to all three questions. Secondhand smoke is a mixture of the smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar combined with the smoke breathed out by a smoker. People breathe in secondhand smoke when they are near others who are smoking. Secondhand smoke is also known as environmental tobacco smoke, passive, side-stream smoke or involuntary smoke.

Do you know what you're breathing?

Secondhand smoke contains more than 60 chemicals that are known to cause cancer. A few of the chemicals are:

•Arsenic (a hazardous gas)

•Benzene (a hazardous gas)

•Beryllium (a toxic metal)

•1,3--Butadiene (a hazardous gas)

•Chromium (a metal)

•Ethylene oxide (a gas)

•Nickel (a metal)

•Vinyl chloride (a hazardous gas)

The U.S. surgeon general estimates that living with a smoker increases a nonsmoker's chances of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 3,400 non-smokers die from lung cancer each year. Some research also suggests that secondhand smoke may increase the risk of breast, nose and throat cancers, as well as leukemia.

Secondhand smoke contributes to various health problems in adults and children. It irritates the airways and makes respiratory conditions worse for people who have lung diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Secondhand smoke damages a person's heart and blood vessels and interferes with circulation increasing the risk of heart disease and heart attack. An estimated 46,000 non-smokers die annually from heart disease because of secondhand smoke.

In children, secondhand smoke can cause:

•Ear infections

•Frequent and severe asthma attacks

•Shortness of breath

•Bronchitis and pneumonia

•Risk for sudden infant death syndrome

A baby who lives in a home where one or both parents smoke is more likely to have lung disease. A child with lung disease usually requires treatment in a hospital for their first two years of life. Secondhand smoke slows the growth of children's lungs and can cause them to cough, wheeze and feel out of breath.

Here are some ways to protect yourself and those you love from secondhand smoke:

•Don't allow smoking in your home by family members, babysitters or guests. Ask them to step outside.

•Don't allow smoking in your vehicle. If a passenger must smoke on the road, stop for a smoke break outside of the car.

•Avoid places that allow smoking. Choose smoke-free facilities for dining, child care and elder care. Request nonsmoking hotel rooms.

•If you have a partner, family member or other loved one who smokes, offer encouragement and support to help them stop smoking.

In others' homes:

•Ask others nicely to not smoke around you or your children, even outside.

•Socialize outdoors, if possible.

•Let smokers know if you're having problems because of their smoking (such as coughing or itchy eyes).

•While a person is smoking, let them know you don't want you and your children to be exposed to the smoke and leave.

Smoke-free areas can be tough on smokers. Here are some coping tips:

•Do something different to take your mind off smoking. Drink a glass of water. Take a walk or stretch.

•If you must smoke, make sure you are in a designated smoking area before lighting up. Completely put out a smoldering cigarette.

•Try to quit smoking. Quit for a day. The Great American Smokeout is Nov. 15. See if your installation or organization offers any programs to help you with quitting.

Where there's secondhand smoke, there is a danger to the air. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Prevent lung cancer and lung diseases. Take action and reduce or eliminate the risk of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Related Links:

American Lung Association

Quit Tobacco

American Cancer Society