Health Issues

Secondhand Smoke

Health hazards for bystanders

Secondhand smoke is a mixture of the smoke coming off the end of a lit cigarette, cigar or pipe and the smoke being exhaled from a smoker's lungs. While most of its negative health effects are focused on the smoker, bystanders can inhale it directly or be affected by lingering smoke for hours after the smoker is gone.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies secondhand smoke as a known carcinogen (it causes cancer). It contains thousands of chemicals, over 50 of which are toxic or carcinogenic - including formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, arsenic, ammonia and hydrogen cyanide.

Immediate responses to secondhand smoke can include sore eyes and throat, irritation of the nose, headaches, coughing, nausea and dizziness.

Diseases linked to secondhand smoke

  • Cancer - Almost 3,500 adults in the United States die each year from lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke.
  • Heart disease - Tens of thousands of nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke die of heart disease each year and may be 25 percent more likely to contract coronary heart disease.
  • Asthma - Asthma can be greatly aggravated and the condition worsened by secondhand smoke; it can even bring on an attack. Kids exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to develop asthma and suffer more from it.

How smoking affects children

Secondhand-smoke exposure has been linked to asthma, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), bronchitis, pneumonia and ear infections. Children's lungs are still developing and can be adversely affected by secondhand smoke, especially when it is a constant reality in the home or vehicle. Young children and infants exposed to secondhand smoke make up thousands of hospitalizations for lower-respiratory-tract infections each year.

How to make the home and car safe

  • Create an outdoor smoking area.
  • Don't let anyone smoke in the home or car, not even for one day.
  • Throw out ashtrays to remove any temptation to smoke indoors. Clean the car ashtray and fill it with something else, such as candy or change.
  • Thoroughly clean all materials affected by secondhand smoke. Use steam cleaners, air purifiers and vacuums - anything to get rid of the remaining smoke residue and smell.
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