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Health Dangers of Secondhand Smoke

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Being a nonsmoker is one of the wisest decisions you can make for your health. However, if you’re regularly breathing smoke-filled air because you live or work with people who smoke, you’re not safe from tobacco’s dangerous effects.

Secondhand smoke—whether it comes from the lit end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, or from the exhaled lungs of a smoker—contains 50

known cancer-causing chemicals. Even if you don’t breathe secondhand smoke all day, studies show that any amount of exposure is unsafe.

Arsenic, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, polonium-210, and vinyl chloride are among the 250 chemicals in secondhand smoke that are known to be harmful.

Also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) or passive smoke, secondhand smoke has been linked to many respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, including some you may think only occur in smokers.

  • Asthma: Exposure to ETS can increase the frequency and severity of asthma attacks in adults and children. In addition, secondhand smoke has been shown to cause asthma symptoms in children who previously had no asthmatic problems.

  • Bronchitis and pneumonia: Passive smoke inhibits proper lung development in children. Kids younger than six who regularly breathe secondhand smoke are especially vulnerable to developing lower respiratory ailments such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

  • Ear infections: The chemicals in ETS can cause fluid buildup in children’s ears, making them more susceptible to middle ear infections.

  • Heart disease/attack: Passive smoke damages blood vessels and increases the risk for both heart disease and heart attacks. It’s estimated that 46,000 non-smoking Americans die from heart disease each year because they were exposed to secondhand smoke. In addition, people who regularly breathe ETS increase their risk of developing heart disease by more than 25 percent.

  • Lung cancer: Nonsmokers get lung cancer too. An estimated 3,400 non smokers die of lung cancer each year because of ETS. Passive smoke increases a person’s risk of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.

The only way to ensure secondhand smoke won’t harm you or your family is to ban tobacco from your home and car and steer clear of any establishment that allows smoking. Separate smoking areas, air filters, or ventilation systems aren’t enough to keep you safe from toxic tobacco smoke.

  • Respiratory difficulties: Because the chemicals in passive smoke are poisonous, they can cause a host of uncomfortable symptoms in our airways, including chronic coughing, phlegm buildup, reduced lung function, sinus problems, and wheezing.

  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): Exposure to secondhand smoke increases a baby’s risk of dying of SIDS. This includes not only infants who are exposed to secondhand smoke after they’re born, but babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy as well. Some of the chemicals in ETS interfere with the infant brain’s ability to regulate breathing.

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