What You Need To Know About Secondhand Smoke

secondhand smoke

Information about the adverse effects of cigarette smoking have already become widespread. However, one aspect of smoking that some people fail to understand is the danger of secondhand smoke. In this article, we will look into essential information about secondhand smoke, and revisit the dangers surrounding tobacco use.

History of Cigarette Smoking

cigarette smoking stick

Cigarette smoking has a long history, starting as far back as 600 B.C. However, it was not until the discovery of famed explorer Christopher Columbus in the late 1400s when tobacco become one of the prime trading commodities in the world.

Tobacco was the first crop grown for money. As a result, it was then called a “cash crop” since it became a primary source of money for a lot of people back then.

In the 1880s, tobacco was either chewed or smoked using a pipe, hand-rolled cigarette, or cigar. It was Washington Duke who first made commercial cigarettes in 1865 in North Carolina. These hand-rolled cigarettes were sold to soldiers during the Civil War.

Meanwhile, James Bonsack invented the cigarette-making machine when cigarette smoking became widespread in 1881.

The general public started becoming aware of the dangers of cigarette smoking in 1964, through a written report of the U.S. Surgeon General at that time. It was discovered that nicotine and tar found in tobacco smoke can cause lung cancer.

By 1965, the U.S. Congress passed the “Cigarette Labelling and Advertising Act”, which requires every tobacco manufacturer to place a warning label on every cigarette pack stating that “cigarettes may be hazardous to your health.”

What is tobacco?

tobacco abuse cigarette butts

Tobacco is a plant known for its contribution to the world of cigarette smoking. Its leaves are dried and fermented before they are produced into different tobacco products.

Tobacco contains nicotine, a chemical that can lead to addiction. Nicotine is highly addictive and has psychoactive effects, thereby increasing the risk of relapse after abstinence. Apart from nicotine, there are other potentially harmful chemicals found in tobacco.

Tobacco products include cigars, cigarettes, bidis, and kreteks. Some individuals also smoke loose tobacco using a pipe or hookah. It is also common among the elders to chew tobacco products.

The Effect Of Tobacco in the Brain

Nicotine is immediately absorbed into the blood as soon as a person uses it. Nicotine stimulates the adrenal glands that are responsible for releasing epinephrine upon entering the blood. Epinephrine fuels the central nervous system, thereby increasing blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing.

Nicotine can increase the levels of dopamine (chemical messenger), which affect parts of the brain responsible for controlling pleasure and reward. Acetaldehyde, which is also found in tobacco smoke, can enhance the nicotine’s effects on the brain.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease in the U.S., which accounts for more than 480,000 fatalities every year. The dangers of smoking are graphically printed on every cigarette pack to warn people about what could possibly happen to them should they continue smoking. However, despite the implementation of a policy to print warning labels on each cigarette pack, the number of people smoking continues to rise up.

Effects of Cigarette Smoking To Human Health

cigarette smoking effects on human health

Smoking can affect the overall health of an individual. It can compromise the immune system, which makes it easier for smokers to eventually suffer from various respiratory ailments. Smoking is also likely to increase the smoker’s chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis, and produces at least 30% higher risk of developing Type II Diabetes.

Studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between cigarette smoking and lower bone density, thereby increasing the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

The heart may also be damaged by cigarette smoking, as exhibited through the following illnesses:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Coronary disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Peripheral heart disease
  • Stroke

With cigarette smoking, blood pressure may shoot up. It may also cause thickening of the blood and narrowing of the blood vessel.

Several respiratory disorders are likely to occur, such as:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Emphysema
  • Pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis

With more than 7,000 chemicals found in tobacco smoke, about 70 chemicals have been found to cause cancer in the different parts of the body.

Secondhand Smoke

secondhand smoke dangers

Cigarette smoking is dangerous to smokers themselves, but they can also affect the health of the people around them. When someone smokes a cigarette, not all of the smoke goes into their lungs. Some go into the air where anyone nearby can breathe it in.

Secondhand smoke is composed of two forms:

Mainstream smoke: This type of smoke is exhaled by the smoker.

Sidestream smoke: This type of smoke comes from a lighted cigarette, pipe and other tobacco products. It contains a higher concentration of chemicals and can be more toxic than the mainstream smoke. This is because the particles in the sidestream smoke are much smaller than the mainstream smoke, which can easily get into the lungs and body cells.

Non-smokers breathe in secondhand smoke, a situation known as involuntary or passive smoking. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Not even by opening the door or the window will it lessen the risk of developing any type of disease associated with cigarette smoking. And for this reason, complete abstinence or staying away from any non-smoker should be done.

“No smoking” policies have been imposed in many public places. But despite these measures, there are still many people exposed to secondhand smoke, particularly children whose parents smoke.

Roughly 250 out of more than 7,000 chemical compounds in cigarette smoke are known to cause diseases. Anyone exposed to secondhand smoke increases their risk of developing a health disorder.

Secondhand smoke accounts for about 34,000 deaths from heart disease and about 7,300 deaths from lung cancer annually, according to CDC. Smoking can affect the normal flow of blood as it can cause thickening, which increases the level of “bad” cholesterol and damages the lining of the blood vessels. These could eventually lead to a heart attack or a stroke.

Chemicals found in Tobacco Smoke

Some of the deadly chemicals found in tobacco smoke are:

  • Ammonia: used in household cleaners
  • Arsenic: chemical used in rat poison
  • Benzene: commonly found in gasoline
  • Butane: chemical used in lighter fluids
  • Cadmium: used in making car batteries
  • Carbon monoxide: found in car exhaust
  • Chromium: used to make steel
  • Formaldehyde: preservative chemical that is used for embalming dead bodies
  • Hydrogen cyanide: component of chemical weapons
  • Lead: sometimes found in children’s toys and can be extremely dangerous to kids
  • Polonium 210: highly radioactive agent and very toxic
  • Vinyl chloride: used to make pipes

The Effects of Secondhand Smoke on Children

Many people are aware of the dangers of smoking, but not everyone may be aware that secondhand smoke is equally dangerous to nonsmokers. Children may experience the worst effects of secondhand smoke, especially if they are constantly exposed to their parents who smoke in their home. Their bodies are still in the growing stage, and so inhalation of these lethal chemicals can inhibit normal growth and affect their respiration rate.

Some of the conditions in children associated with secondhand smoke are:

  • Chronic cough
  • Ear infections
  • More respiratory infections (such as bronchitis and pneumonia)
  • More severe and frequent asthma attacks
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Pregnant women exposed to secondhand smoke may go through premature delivery, produce an offspring with low birth weight, decrease the child’s learning ability, lower the mental ability, and increase the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in their kids. The risk becomes aggravated as the number of cigarettes consumed increases.

After being exhaled, cigarette smoke travels in the air and possibly settle on different surfaces like curtains, furniture, and upholstery. The smoke’s components may remain long even after the smoke is gone. Additionally, smoke can also stick on clothes.

Being in a club filled with a smoking crowd would also cause your hair to smell smoke. This form of smoke is referred to as thirdhand smoke. It is similarly dangerous as when gases in the air combine with the particles that settle out of the air. This can also contribute to the formation of cancer-causing compounds.

It was also discovered that thirdhand smoke can cause damage to the human DNA.

Smoke-Free Air Act

In an attempt to protect its people, several states in the U.S. have passed a bill preventing tobacco users to smoke in public to protect the health of the general public. With the implementation of this policy, it has a tremendous positive impact in the workplace.

Apart from keeping the people healthy by protecting them from being exposed to smoke, it lowers the risk of having fire incidents in the workplace and different establishments.

There are, however, certain places where indoor smoking is allowed. These places include:

  • Up to 20% of hotel/motel rooms
  • Cigar bars and lounges
  • Within the perimeters of casino area
  • Residential areas

Imposing strict rules of not selling tobacco products to individuals under 18 years old can somehow help in controlling the number of young individuals getting hooked on the habit.

Ohio passed the smoke-free air act in November 2006, wherein 58% of Ohio voters approved the passing of the Smoke-Free Workplace Act. It is also the 12th state to protect all citizens from secondhand tobacco smoke exposure in public places and most workplaces.

Secondhand Smoke Facts

cigarette secondhand smoke

There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. For this reason, there have been about 2.5 million adults reported to have died due to secondhand smoke exposure since the 1964 General Surgeon’s Report.

Here are some other facts and figures related to secondhand smoke:

  • About 1,000 infants die each year during birth due to mothers who smoke while they were pregnant.
  • Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at least 25% at risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
  • Secondhand smoke increases the risk of stroke by 20-30%.
  • People who already have a heart disease have a higher risk of suffering from the hazardous effects of breathing secondhand smoke.
  • Children born to parents who smoke are likely to get sick more often due to suppressed immune system.
  • Secondhand smoke can trigger asthma attacks in children.
  • Chemicals found in secondhand smoke interfere with the regulation of a child’s breathing.

Protecting your loved ones from secondhand smoke exposure

There are several ways to protect our loved ones from secondhand smoke exposure. Here are some of them:

  • Not allowing any smoker to smoke inside the car or inside the home
  • Not to smoke especially in front of children
  • Teach children about the dangers of smoking
  • Warn them of public places where cigarette smoking is common

Nicotine Hair Testing

Drug testing is commonly used as part of pre-employment procedures and other job-related activities. Some companies use this as one of the requirements for employees such as transportation/aviation personnel, food servers and federal contractors. With “no smoking” policies strictly implemented in some companies and industries, using a nicotine hair testing may become appropriate.

Nicotine hair testing is primarily used for screening tobacco consumption not only for pre-employment requirement, but also for child custody and health insurance enrollment purposes.

The testing is performed by plucking several strands of hair and placed into the testing kit. Presence of nicotine in the hair may represent tobacco consumption or consumption from secondary source.

A nicotine hair test is not a “stand alone” test. The final result will be based on other clinical findings or information gathered by healthcare providers from supplemental tests.

Final Word

Secondhand smoke is a common sighting that should not be taken lightly. By understanding its effects, you will be better informed about its repercussions to health and the community. You should also be able to know how to prevent secondhand smoke from affecting your health and your family’s overall well-being.

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