BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Global Health- Second Hand Smoke



Secondhand smoke can be described as any smoke from burning tobacco products, such as cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. It also includes smoke exhaled or breathed out by smokers. Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemical, most of which are either toxic or carcinogenic. Non-smokers exposed to second hand smoke are referred to as involuntary or passive smokers. They inhale nicotine and toxic chemicals from tobacco the same way smokers do.  There is currently no risk-free level of exposure to second hand smoke and it affects every organ in the body. Some individuals may experience severe health problems and physical reactions may occur despite short periods or low levels of exposure. Immediate reactions including heart attack and stroke are not uncommon. Other reactions include increased heart rate, reduced supply of oxygen to the heart and narrowed blood vessels which upsurge blood pressure and cause greater burden or workload for the heart. In pregnant women, second-hand smoke may result in greater risks of miscarriages, premature birth and babies with low birth weight.

Regular exposure to second-hand smoke can cause as much harm as that found in smokers, however, the risk and severity of harm are dependent on the amount and length of exposure.

The long term effects of second-hand smoke include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Nasal sinus cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Breathing problems, such as coughing, wheezing, pneumonia and asthma

Secondhand smoke has been associated with cancer even in people who have never smoked. More specifically, it has been linked to certain cancers in adults such as cancers of the larynx, pharynx, brain, breast, bladder and rectum. In children, it has been associated with, lymphoma, leukemia, liver cancer and brain tumors. Additionally, several studies have found a link between second hand smoke and mental or emotional challenges such as depression. More research is however needed to better understand this link. The only way to avoid the effects of second hand smoke is by creating a smoke-free environment: making homes, work places, schools and cars smoke-free. Using air purifiers and ventilation systems will not remove all the toxins and chemicals found in second-hand smoke. These substances remain in rooms for hours, even with open windows and one can still be exposed because the particles are either suspended in air or settled on surfaces such as carpets, curtains, furniture and clothes.

To help reduce second hand smoke, some countries have laws that ban smoking in buildings, as well as public and shared spaces.

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