Smokers always find it offensive when you tell them not to smoke around you. Choosing to smoke and destroying your own health is one thing but passive smoking, also known as Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) or Second-hand Smoke (SHS), damages the health of those around you. The first global study into the effects of passive smoking has estimated it causes 600,000 deaths every year.
A non-smoker is subjected to both the “side stream” smoke from the burning tip of the cigarette and the “mainstream” smoke that has been inhaled and then is exhaled into their environment by the smoker. Most of the smoke that builds up in a room containing a smoker is of the more harmful “side stream” type. It is not too much of a conceptual leap to understand that the smoke from cigarettes, which is so bad for the smoker, is also damaging to everyone else.
Tobacco smoke contains cancer-causing carcinogenic agents. Tobacco smoke also contains carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas, which inhibits the transportation of oxygen to the body’s vital organs via the blood. The smoke emitted from the tip of a cigarette has about double the concentration of nicotine and tar as the smoke being directly inhaled by the smoker. It also contains about three times the amount of the carcinogen benzo(a)pyrene, five times the level of carbon monoxide and about 50 times the amount of ammonia. Add to these the other chemicals in the smoke like arsenic, formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, and hydrogen cyanide and you have a very unappetizing toxic gas cocktail. Remember that the passive smoker receives all of this and gets none of the enjoyment that you get out of smoking in return. Many of the potentially toxic gasses in the smoke are present in higher concentrations in the “side stream” smoke than in the “mainstream” smoke.
In tests, tobacco specific carcinogens have been found in samples of blood or urine provided by non-smokers who have been exposed to passive smoking. The great Gani Fawehinmi SAN died in 2009 after a prolonged battle with lung cancer. Prior to his death, he maintained he doesn’t smoke and was astonished when the doctors in UK told him he had lung cancer.
Any person exposed to passive smoking may experience short-term symptoms such as a headache, a cough, wheezing, an eye irritation, a sore throat, nausea or dizziness. Adults with asthma may also experience a significant decline in lung function when exposed to second-hand smoke. Under these conditions it can take as little as half an hour for an individual’s coronary blood flow to become reduced.
It was estimated that prolonged exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, such as in the home, increases the risk of lung cancer by approximately 20 to 25%. Even if you do not accept the accuracy of these percentages, it is well established that you have an increased chance of developing lung cancer through passive smoking if you are a non-smoker but live with someone who smokes. The chances of suffering from ischaemic heart disease are greater for those exposed to passive smoking compared to those who are not. Studies have shown that the risk of experiencing a heart attack is believed to be almost doubled by regular exposure to second-hand smoke.
Some of the most serious damage inflicted by passive smoking is done to children during their formative years. As you would expect, a child’s bronchial tubes are smaller and their immune systems are less developed making them more susceptible to the harmful effects of passive smoking. Due to the fact that their airways are smaller, children breathe faster than adults and, consequently, they actually breathe in comparatively more of the harmful chemicals in the smoke, based on their body weight, than adults do.Young children, by necessity, spend a lot of time at home and maternal smoking is one of the major sources of passive smoking because of the child’s close proximity to their parents during early childhood.
Exposure to tobacco smoke can double the chances of your child requiring hospitalisation for illnesses like bronchitis, bronchiolitis, and pneumonia that affect the lower respiratory tract, especially during the first year of life. They are also more likely to suffer from ear infections (glue ear), tonsillitis, and asthma. Passive smoking is known to be one of the main contributing factors in the development of childhood asthma. It can exacerbate existing asthma, increasing both the frequency of the attack and its severity. Second-hand tobacco smoke may damage a child’s olfactory function so that they have difficulty differentiating certain smells. There is also the chance that passive smoking may have a negative effect on a child’s cognitive abilities, impairing their ability to read or use reasoning skills.
Just as a woman should not smoke during pregnancy, she should not be exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke. There are links between parental smoking and the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or “cot death”. It has been estimated that the infants of mothers who smoke are put at almost five times the risk of dying from “cot death” when compared to the infants of mothers who do not smoke. Passive smoking is also a recognised factor in lowering the birth weight of babies.
Not only can passive smoking harm your foetus but it can also reduce the chances of you getting pregnant in the first place. Female fertility can suffer because of passive smoking, making it harder to conceive a child.
To continue to smoke and put the health of your family and loved-ones at risk would seem, on the face of it, to be a rather selfish act. When you take into account the damage that smoking is doing to your own body, then it seems more like insanity.
Think of how traumatic it would be if a member of your family became ill or died because of your smoking habit. Now consider the fact that they would feel exactly the same way if smoking ended your life prematurely or made you seriously ill. You may find yourself asking “Why do I still smoke?”