Secondhand smoke; a.k.a. Passive Smoking, is a Killer
According to the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report, there have been more than 20 million smoking-related deaths in the United States since 1964. Of those, 2.5 million were among non-smokers who died from exposure to secondhand smoke. During that same time, 100,000 babies died due to parental smoking, including smoking during pregnancy. This is no big surprise to Dr. Robert DeMarco. A board-certified pulmonologist and critical care physician, Dr. DeMarco cares for patients in Intensive Care at North Florida Regional Medical Center. We asked him if there is any question about the connection between passive smoking and chronic lung disease. Here’s what he said.
Secondhand smoke (SHS) is a mixture of 2 forms of smoke that come from burning tobacco:
- Sidestream smoke: Smoke from the lighted end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar
- Mainstream smoke: The smoke exhaled by a smoker
Even though we think of these as the same, they aren’t. Sidestream smoke has higher concentrations of cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) and is more toxic than mainstream smoke. And, it has smaller particles than mainstream smoke. These smaller particles make their way into the lungs and the body’s cells more easily.
What To Do
Everyone can be exposed to SHS in public places, such as restaurants, shopping centers, public transportation, parks, schools, and daycare centers. The Surgeon General has suggested people choose restaurants and other businesses that are smoke-free, and let owners of businesses that are not smoke-free know that SHS is harmful to your family’s health.
Public places where children go are a special area of concern. Make sure that your children’s daycare center or school is smoke-free.
Some businesses seem to be afraid to ban smoking, but there’s no strong evidence that going smoke-free is bad for business.
Making your home smoke-free may be one of the most important things you can do for the health of your family. Any family member can develop health problems related to SHS.
Children’s growing bodies are especially sensitive to the toxins in SHS. Asthma, lung infections, and ear infections are more common in children who are around smokers. Some of these problems can become serious and even life-threatening. Others may seem like small problems, but they can add up quickly – the time for doctor visits, medicines, lost school time, and often lost work time for the parent who must stay home with a sick child are all costs that can impact a family.
Think about it: we spend more time at home than anywhere else. A smoke-free home protects your family, your guests, and even your pets.
Multi-unit housing where smoking is allowed is a special concern and a subject of research. Tobacco smoke can move through air ducts, wall and floor cracks, elevator shafts, and along crawl spaces to contaminate apartments on other floors, even those that are far from the smoke. SHS cannot be controlled with ventilation, air cleaning, or by separating smokers from non-smokers.
In the car
Americans spend a great deal of time in cars, and if someone smokes there, the toxins can build up quickly. Again, this can be especially harmful to children.
In response to this fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency has been working to encourage people to make their cars, as well as their homes, smoke-free. Some states and cities even have laws that ban smoking in the car if carrying passengers under a certain age or weight. And many facilities such as city buildings, malls, schools, colleges, and hospitals ban smoking on their grounds, including their parking lots.