Second Hand Smoking and the Effects of Passive Smoking

Second hand smoking is when you breathe other people’s smoke. Also known as passive smoking. Research has shown that people frequently exposed to the hazards of second hand smoking, are at greater risk for lung cancer and other cancers.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified environmental tobacco smoke as a class A (known human) carcinogen along with asbestos, arsenic, benzene and radon gas.

Smoking hurts many more people than just the smoker. One of the major effects of passive smoking is that the second hand smoker is inhaling unfiltered cigarette smoke, and so the carcinogen levels one is exposed to through second hand smoking can be up to 100 times higher than those inhaled directly through cigarettes.

When a cigarette is smoked, the smoke comes from two main places; primarily the cigarette tip, then the rest of the cigarette as the hot vapours move through the cigarette and filter. 70% to 80% of second hand smoke comes from the burning cigarette tip, which contains the greatest amounts of nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide and many other carcinogenic chemicals.

Short and Long Term Effects of Second Hand Smoking

Immediate effects of second hand smoking include eye irritation, headache, cough, sore throat, dizziness and nausea.

Short term exposure to cigarette smoke also has a measurable effect on the heart in non-smokers. 30 minutes exposure is enough to reduce coronary blood flow.

Long term effects of passive smoking smoking include an increased risk of a range of smoking-related diseases. Non-smokers exposed to second hand smoke at home risk a 25% increased chance of heart disease and lung cancer.

It has been estimated that each year in the UK, about 600 lung cancer deaths and up to 12,000 deaths from heart disease in non-smokers, may be attributed to the dangers of second hand smoking.

Adults with asthma can experience a significant decline in lung function when exposed to the effects of second hand smoking.

Effects of Second Hand Smoking on Children

Children under the age of one whose parents smoke are more than twice as likely than children of non-smokers to suffer asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and bronchiolitis and other respiratory tract illnesses.

One study found that in households where both parents smoke, young children have a 72 per cent increased risk of respiratory illnesses.

A child’s lung tissue is especially vulnerable to the effects of passive smoking, even when the concentration levels of cigarette smoke are relatively low.

Smoking in a car, even with the windows open, is still dangerous to a child. The younger the child, the more vulnerable the lung tissue. Second hand smoking may also be a cause of cot death.

Second hand smoke is also associated with middle ear infection in children as well as possible cardiovascular impairment and behavioural problems.

Passive smoking during childhood predisposes children to developing chronic obstructive airway disease and cancer as adults.

The effects of second hand smoking may also impair olfactory function in children. A Canadian study found that second hand smoke reduced children’s ability to detect a wide variety of odours compared with children raised in non-smoking households.

Exposure may also affect a child’s mental development. A US study found deficits in reading and reasoning skills among children even at low levels of smoke exposure.

It has been estimated that over 700 million children are exposed to the effects of passive smoking across the world each day.

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