Health dangers of secondhand smoke
Are you or your loved ones accidental smokers?
The answer is "yes" if you are one of the estimated 88 million nonsmokers in the US who are exposed regularly to secondhand smoke. And, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, this number includes over half of all American children who fall between the ages 3 to 11 and children. Unfortunately, children are especially vulnerable because they are still developing physically, have higher breathing rates and have less freedom to avoid secondhand smoke than do adults.
The fact is that smokers take in 4,000+ substances, including nicotine, arsenic, butane, cadmium, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, methane and other toxic chemicals, 60 of which are known to cause cancer is scary enough. But when you consider that what comes out of the lit end of a cigarette is more toxic than what's inhaled from the filtered end, secondhand smoke may be especially dangerous.
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Secondhand smoke is so dangerous, in fact, that it is classed as a human carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. In the U.S. each year, secondhand smoke is responsible for almost 50,000 deaths related to heart disease and lung cancer, up to 300,000 lung infections in children under 18 months and asthma problems and middle ear infections in up to 1,000,000 children.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, breathing even a little secondhand smoke can be harmful. There is no risk-free level of exposure. What's more, opening a window or using a fan or air conditioner does not eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke.
So what can be done to minimize or eliminate the hazards of secondhand smoke?
If you are a smoker, protect your loved ones and others by:
- Never smoke while you are pregnant or when you are with anyone who is pregnant. Babies born to smokers have a greater likelihood of being sickly or dying as infants (SIDS).
- Never smoke around children, or persons with heart disease or respiratory conditions.
- Respect "No Smoking" signs and the requests of others to not smoke in their presence.
- If you'd like to quit smoking, learn about many of the resources available to you, such as SmokeFree.gov and the How to Quit section in this guide from the CDC. You may even encourage your employer to include "stopping smoking" support along with the company health insurance.
Whether or not you are a smoker, you can limit the exposure of others to secondhand smoke by:
- At home: Make your home 100% smoke-free 24/7. When someone smokes anywhere in the home, smoke can move freely to other rooms through vents, open doors. In fact, it is believed that cancer-causing particles may hang around for months -- mixed in with household dust that can be breathed in or absorbed through the skin or orally (such as when kids play on the floor and put things in their mouth). Researchers call this thirdhand smoke!
- At work: Pressure your workplace to adopt a no-smoking policy.
- In public places: Some states still permit smoking in stores, restaurants, bars, daycare centers and on public transportation. Encourage your elected officials to adopt stronger no smoking legislation in public places, including work settings. Also, mention your concern to the businesses you support. Evidence show that, in general, businesses that adopt a no-smoking policy do not see a decrease in sales.
- If you are a retailer: Strongly consider adopting no smoking policies and make this customer-friendly policy visible in your advertising. Follow laws that prohibit sale of tobacco to anyone under the age of 18.
- In the car: Prohibit all smoking when you or your children are inside vehicles. The chemicals from cigarette smoke can quickly build up to hazardous levels within the small confines of a vehicle.