passive smoke

Harmful Effects of Second-hand Smoke

Second-hand, otherwise known as passive smoke, is what you inhale when you’re close to smokers. You can breathe in other people’s tobacco smoke at parties or public gatherings. You may not realise or feel any changes when you mingle with smokers. However, the smoke you inhale affects your health as much as it does theirs.

What is second-hand smoke?

Second-hand smoke comes from two sources. Namely

1. Sidestream smoke: 

Sidestream smoke comes from burned tobacco products such as pipes and cigarettes.

2. Mainstream smoke: 

Mainstream smoke comes from when a person smoke nearby.

Both streams release chemicals into the air that can affect your health. Therefore, no level of passive smoke is safe. Children mainly are more prone to danger.

When does second-hand smoke damage start?

Passive smoke damages occur in less than 7 minutes:

  • Arteries become less flexible after five minutes, just like they do in the person smoking.
  • Blood starts clotting after 20-30 minutes, and fat deposits in blood vessels increase heart attack and stroke risk.
  • An irregular heartbeat can develop and trigger a heart attack or other severe cardiac problems after two hours.

What makes secondhand smoke dangerous?

All smoke from burning nicotine products contains harmful chemicals (toxins). Even nonsmokers inhaling other people’s smoke breathe in these toxins. Sidestream smoke from the end of a cigarette, cigar or pipe is unfiltered. It has more harmful toxins than mainstream smoke that someone breathes out.

How does second-hand smoke affect non-smokers?

Passive smoke harms your body in several ways. Adults that inhale this smoke may experience severe health problems:

  • Cardiovascular (heart, veins and arteries) disease like high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart attack or stroke.
  • Lung problems like chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and asthma.
  • Increased risks of lung cancer and other forms of cancer such as breast, brain, stomach cancers and more.

Children exposed to passive smoke are more likely to experience:

  • Persistent sneezing, coughing, and breathing problems.
  • Ear infections.
  • Regular and severe asthma attacks.
  • Respiratory infections, such as pneumonia.
  • Damage to eyes and teeth.
  • Learning and behaviour problems.
  • SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

Who is at greater risk of damage from second-hand smoke?

Anyone exposed to second-hand smoke can be affected. However, some people are more exposed. Thus:

  • If you work near groups of smokers, it’ll be challenging to avoid second-hand smoke. For instance, a restaurant that doesn’t restrict smoking or bartenders.
  • Pregnant women: Second-hand smoke does not only affect the parent but her offspring as well. Lower amounts of oxygen available for the baby can increase fatal heart rates or lower the birth weight. A pregnant woman may experience stillbirth, miscarriage, premature delivery or ectopic pregnancy.
  • Children and babies: children don’t have the rationale to leave a smoke-filled room. So, constant exposure increases the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. 

Because their bodies are still developing, they’re at higher risk of :

  • Asthma
  • Bacterial meningitis
  • Cot death
  • Middle ear infection
  • Respiratory infections

Besides damaging children’s health, children exposed to smoke are likely to start smoking.

So, how can I protect my child, myself and others from passive smoking?

Keep the environment smoke free. If you don’t smoke, all you have to do is stay away from smoke-filled surroundings or people that smoke.

Keep the environment around you, and your loved ones smoke free. As a result, you protect them from inhaling the smoke. Although it not easy, the best decision would be to stop smoking; however, if you’re not able to just yet, be sure to smoke at secluded places with no one around.

Restrict smoking indoor, be it in your home or your car.

Further reading: Health effects of smoking on your body.

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