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).
5. Low Birth Weight
Babies born to mothers who live with smokers often have a lower weight at birth. Passive smoking by pregnant women causes a reduced amount of oxygen and nutrients reaching the baby via the placenta. This hampers the growth of the baby inside the womb, which leads to a low birth weight.
A 2011 study published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal found that a mother’s exposure to secondhand smoke during pregnancy is associated with increased odds of low birth weight and preterm delivery (8).
Another study published in the International Journal of High Risk Behaviors & Addiction in 2013 showed that secondhand smoke exposure among pregnant women may be significantly associated with early preterm delivery (9).
A 2016 study published in Scientific Reports concludes that maternal exposure to secondhand smoke during pregnancy may lead to low birth weight through the potential pathways of maternal inflammation and lower placental weight (10).
Pregnant women exposed to secondhand smoke can also have a greater risk of miscarriages and premature birth.
Plus, newborns who breathe secondhand smoke have a greater chance of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). So, avoid secondhand smoke to have a healthy pregnancy.
6. Poor Immunity
Exposure to secondhand smoke is also bad for your immune system. The toxic chemicals can wreak havoc on the immune system by suppressing immune cells.
When you inhale the toxic chemicals, they alter the number of various immune cells, which in turn impairs the functioning of others.
Exposure to secondhand smoke can make you more prone to respiratory infections, allergies, and even the common cold.
Also, secondhand smoke can make your body age faster.
7. Premature Aging of Your Skin
Being exposed to someone else’s cigarette or cigar smoke is very bad for your skin.
Tobacco smoke causes inflammation both for the smoker and anyone around the smoker. It also triggers free-radical damage and affects skin cell membranes, which in turn can cause your skin to wrinkle and sag.
Furthermore, exposure to secondhand smoke also reduces collagen production that gives your skin its firmness and a youthful look.
A 2015 study published in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications reports that secondhand exposure to cigarette smoke can cause skin collagen loss. Additionally, it might affect the appearance of the skin or could accelerate the skin aging process (11).
Tips to Prevent Exposure to Secondhand Smoke
- Make your home and car smoke-free by following a strict rule to not allow anyone to smoke inside your home or car.
- Do not allow anyone to smoke near you and especially around your child.
- Encourage family, friends, and neighbors to create a smoke-free environment.
- Do not bring your child to places where smoking is not banned.
- Make sure your children’s daycare center and schools are tobacco-free.
- Opt for restaurants and other places that do not allow smoking.
- Teach your children to stay away from secondhand smoke.
- When traveling, look for hotels that do not allow smoking.
- Be a good role model; do not smoke or use any other type of tobacco.