Clearing the Air: The Facts About Secondhand Smoke
With an estimated 40 million smokers in the United States , you may fall prey to a stranger’s hovering secondhand smoke.
“While smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States,” explains Kitturah Klaiss, DO, an osteopathic family physician from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, “secondhand smoke is the third , so it is a very serious health threat.”
Secondhand smoke is also known as passive, involuntary or environmental tobacco smoke. The fumes are a mixture of particles from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe and the smoke breathed out by the smoker.
The Dangers of Secondhand Smoke
Not only can secondhand smoke cause cancer, it can lead to other serious health issues, including these in adults:
- Hardening of the arteries and damage to arterial linings
- Blood clots
- Heart attacks
It can also cause health issues in children, including:
- Ear infections
- Respiratory infections such as bronchitis
- More frequent and severe asthma attacks
- An increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome
Types of Secondhand Smoke
There are two types of secondhand smoke: mainstream, which is exhaled by the smoker, and sidestream smoke, which is released from the burning end of the cigarette.
Mainstream smoke has less concentration of toxic chemicals because tobacco burns cleaner at the high temperatures created when a smoker inhales. On the other hand, sidestream smoke burns at a lower temperature and without the cigarette filter that screens some of the toxins for the smoker when inhaling. As a result, sidestream smoke is more toxic because the smoke doesn’t pass through a filter.
“Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including nearly 70 that cause cancer,” explains Dr. Klaiss.
She adds, “It can take up to two weeks for nicotine alone to clear from the air in a room where smoking has occurred.”
Even as the cost of cigarettes continues to increase and cigarette manufacturers post tips on their websites educating consumers about the health risks, a staggering 44 million men and women in the United States continue to smoke. Furthermore, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 480,000 smoking-related deaths occur annually, of which roughly 40,000 are caused by secondhand smoke.
Avoiding Secondhand Smoke
To avoid secondhand smoke, Dr. Klaiss suggests these tips:
- Don’t go to public places where people are smoking.
- If you’re at a restaurant, hotel or other establishment that allows smoking, request a “nonsmoking” section. Most states have smoke-free websites with nonsmoking establishment listings.
- If a restaurant puts you near smokers, ask to be moved.
- If smokers do not obey nonsmoking rules, politely ask that they not smoke around you.
- Do not allow smokers to smoke around your children.
- Ask visitors not to smoke in your home.
- If you live with smokers, encourage them to quit.
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors affect your wellbeing. They listen and partner with you to help you get healthy and stay well.