Smoking can kill you! Most people know this. But do you know that even if you do not smoke, exposure to secondhand smoke is equally harmful to you?
Secondhand smoke is the smoke that comes from a lit cigarette, pipe or cigar, as well as the smoke breathed out into the air by smokers. It can quickly fill the air in a car, home, restaurant or any other place you can think of.
When nonsmokers involuntarily inhale smoke in the air, it is called passive smoking and is considered very damaging to one’s health.
In fact, secondhand smoke exposure contributes to approximately 41,000 deaths among nonsmoking adults and 400 infant deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Secondhand smoke is highly poisonous, containing over 4,000 chemicals, including benzopyrene, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, and ammonia.
When a child or adult who does not smoke is exposed to the toxic chemicals in secondhand smoke, he or she can suffer from various health problems.
If you need to convince a loved one or good friend that secondhand smoke is indeed dangerous to others, just show them this article.
Here are some of the negative effects of secondhand smoke.
1. Lung Infections
People, especially small children, who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at a higher risk of suffering from lung infections like chronic bronchitis and pneumonia.
Secondhand smoke is highly toxic and regular exposure can be damaging to your lungs and your overall health. The toxic chemicals can narrow the air passages and make breathing more difficult. It also causes chronic inflammation or swelling in the lungs. You need to avoid secondhand smoke to keep your lungs strong and healthy.
A 2000 study published in BMC Public Health found that besides cigarette smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke is a major risk factor for chronic bronchitis in Taiwanese women (1).
2. Lung Cancer
Many chemicals in cigarettes can cause damage to your DNA, including key genes that protect against cancer.
Cigarette smoking is the primary risk factor for lung cancer, but exposure to secondhand smoke can also increase your risk.
A 2008 study published in Lung Cancer found that people exposed to secondhand smoke have a higher risk of lung cancer. Furthermore, this study suggests that subjects first exposed before age 25 have a higher lung cancer risk compared to those whose first exposure occurred after age 25 (2).
A more recent study published in 2016 in the Japanese Journal of Clinical Oncology reports that secondhand smoke exposure in the home during adulthood results in a statistically significant increase in the risk of lung cancer (3).
Apart from lung cancer, cervical and bladder cancer are two cancers that can develop in people who have been exposed to secondhand smoke.
Any kind of smoke can irritate your lungs, especially if you have asthma. In fact, smoke is a well-known asthma trigger that you must avoid to prevent attacks.
Children are more likely to get asthma when exposed to secondhand smoke. But even adults with asthma can have frequent breathing problems due to secondhand smoke exposure.
A 2005 study published in Thorax reports that secondhand smoke exposure appears to be associated with poorer asthma outcomes. In public health terms, these results support prohibiting smoking in public places (4).
A 2015 study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology found that children with asthma and secondhand smoke exposure are nearly twice as likely to be hospitalized with asthma exacerbation and are more likely to have lower pulmonary function test results (5).
A 2017 study published in PLOS ONE found that children exposed to secondhand smoke in Connecticut had greater asthma severity. Researchers noted the odds of being exposed and the impacts vary by race/ethnicity and insurance status (6).
4. Heart Disease
Both active and passive smokers are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
The effects of breathing secondhand smoke can cause an increased heart rate, less oxygen to the heart and constricted blood vessels that increase blood pressure and make the heart work harder.
The harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke also damage the blood cells, which can affect the functioning of your heart and blood vessels. This, in turn, increases the risk of atherosclerosis, which can make you more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association supports the association of secondhand smoke exposure to inflammation and peripheral arterial disease (7).