Twenty years ago, it was common to see — and smell — people smoking in public places like restaurants, bars, and even workplaces. Although there is no federal ban on public smoking, most states now have strict laws against smoking in designated public places.
Minimizing exposure to cigarette smoke is in the best interest of the public’s health as a whole. Secondhand smoke has been shown to contain over 250 toxic substances, and at least 69 of these are known to cause cancer. The CDC reports that since 1964, more than 2.5 million nonsmokers, including 100,000 babies, have died due to exposure to cigarette smoke.
What is secondhand smoke?
Secondhand smoke actually includes two different types of smoke: one comes directly from the end of a burning cigarette, and the other is what the smoker breathes out into the air. The former, called sidestream smoke, is more toxic and can more readily enter the lungs. The smoke that is exhaled by the smoker, called mainstream smoke, is also harmful, but slightly less so. If you are exposed to secondhand smoke, it’s called “passive smoking,” and the substances you’re breathing are actively harming your body, even if you never smoke a cigarette yourself.
A 2006 Surgeon General’s Report states that sitting in the non-smoking section of an establishment, opening windows in a car or house, or being in a different room from smokers does not eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke — or its health risks. If you allow smoking in your car with the windows down, for instance, all the passengers in the car are being exposed. Living in a building in which smoking is allowed in certain areas can still expose everyone in the building. The particles in secondhand smoke can travel readily through air ventilation systems.
Adult health problems
Adults who are exposed to secondhand smoke — and there is no safe level — are at an increased risk for many health problems, including:
- Heart disease
- Lung cancer
Effects on babies and children
Babies and children are very susceptible to the harmful chemicals in secondhand smoke. If your child is in a car, home, or building where smoking is allowed, they are being exposed. Some of the proven health risks of this exposure include:
- Higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Ear infections
- Coughing, sneezing, and breathing problems
- Asthma attacks, which can damage the lungs and even lead to death
Although we’ve come a long way in reducing nonsmokers’ exposure to secondhand smoke, many children and adults are still being exposed. Remember there is no safe level, so take steps to ensure you and your family members do not breathe secondhand smoke.
CarePoint Health Primary Care
Your primary care physician can help you manage your healthcare, and answer any questions you have about your health. Your PCP will help you navigate your well visits and specialist care throughout your life, and will be your health care advocate. To find a skilled primary care physician at CarePoint Health, please contact us.
Content on our website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911. Always consult your physician before making any changes to your medical treatment.