What is secondhand smoke?
Secondhand smoke is the smoke from a burning cigarette, pipe or cigar. It is also the smoke exhaled by a smoker. When a person smokes near you, you breathe in second-hand smoke. Also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), it can be recognized easily by its distinctive odor.
Cigarettes produce about 12 minutes of smoke, yet the smoker may inhale only 30 seconds of smoke from their cigarette. The rest of the smoke lingers in the air for non-smokers and smokers to breathe.
Second-hand smoke contains more than 4000 chemicals. Many of these chemicals are known to cause cancer. Many of us breathe it in whether we know it or not, in public places, around doorways of buildings and at work. When someone smokes inside a home or car, everyone inside breathes second-hand smoke. Chemicals found in second-hand smoke include:
- carbon monoxide (found in your car’s exhaust)
- ammonia (found in window cleaners)
- cadmium (found in batteries)
- arsenic (found in rat poison)
Many people find ETS unpleasant, annoying, and irritating to the eyes and nose, headaches, coughing and wheezing, nausea and dizziness. You are also more likely to get colds and the flu. Breathing in second-hand smoke can also trigger asthma attacks and increase your chances of getting bronchitis and pneumonia. If you have been exposed to second-hand smoke for a long time, you are more likely to develop and die from heart problems, breathing problems and lung cancer.
Secondhand Smoke and Its Effect on…
The fetus and newborn: Maternal, fetal and placental blood flow change when pregnant women smoke. Smoking during pregnancy causes birth defects such as cleft lip or palate. Smoking mothers produce less milk, and their babies have a lower birth weight. If you smoke or are around second-hand smoke while you are pregnant, you are more likely to:
- deliver early
- experience problems during labour
Second-hand smoke can harm babies before and after they are born. Several chemicals in second-hand smoke can pass into your baby’s blood, affecting how your unborn baby develops.
They are also at a higher risk of dying during childbirth or dying of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). If you’re breast-feeding, keep in mind that some chemicals from second-hand smoke are passed directly from breast milk to the baby.
Older children: Children are more at risk of getting sick than adults when they breathe in second-hand smoke because their bodies are still growing. They breathe faster than adults, so they absorb more harmful chemicals. Children’s immune systems, which protect them from getting sick, are not yet fully developed.
Children have less control over their surroundings than adults do. Unlike adults, children are less likely to leave smoky places by themselves. Some children may not feel comfortable complaining about second-hand smoke.
Compared to children of non-smokers, children who regularly breathe in second-hand smoke are more likely to suffer from:
- coughing and wheezing
- asthma and other breathing problems
- bronchitis, croup and pneumonia
- higher risk of heart disease and
- take up smoking themselves.
The Ears: Exposure to ETS increases both the number of ear infections a child will experience, and the duration of the illness. Inhaled smoke irritates and causes swelling and obstruction of the eustachian tube, which connects the back of the nose with the middle ear and thereby interfering with pressure equalization in the middle ear, leading to pain, fluid and infection. Ear infections are the most common cause of children’s hearing loss. When they do not respond to medical treatment, the surgical insertion of tubes into the ears is often required.
The Brain: Children of mothers who smoked or were exposed to second hand smoke during pregnancy are more likely to suffer behavioral problems such as hyperactivity than children of non-smoking mothers. Modest impairment in school performance and intellectual achievement has also been demonstrated.
Secondhand Smoke Causes Cancer
You have just read how ETS harms the development of your child, but did you know that your risk of developing cancer from ETS is about 100 times greater than from outdoor cancer-causing pollutants? Did you know that ETS causes more than 3,000 non-smokers to die of lung cancer each year? While these facts are quite alarming for everyone, you can stop your child’s exposure to secondhand smoke right now.
Don’t forget about pets
Your pets are also at risk. Cats, dogs and other animals who regularly breathe in second-hand smoke have a greater chance of getting cancer. Because smoke particles can cling to their fur, they may also ingest smoke particles when grooming themselves with their tongues.