The WHO states that nearly half the people who smoke regularly will eventually be killed by tobacco. What is very alarming, however, is that hundreds of thousands who have never lit a cigarette are also killed each year by tobacco. The culprit is passive smoking.
Most smokers know they are destroying their health. However, passive smoking, or secondhand smoking, harms the health of non-smokers. These people did not choose to be exposed to the harmful smoke, yet they will suffer for it.
This year, World No Tobacco Day, marked on 31 May, is calling for more protection for non-smokers. The best and only solution, according to WHO, is to promote 100 percent smoke-free environments.
Tobacco smoke contains 4,000 different chemicals. Nearly 250 of these are either carcinogenic or toxic. They range from the colorless and odorless poisonous carbon monoxide to hydrogen cyanide. Secondhand smoking coming from the tip of a burning cigarette actually contains higher concentrations of many of these compounds than the smoke inhaled by the smoker.
Much of the harm caused by secondhand smoking actually starts at home. While many people see their homes as the perfect place to smoke, they unwittingly expose their families to the poisons carried in the smoke.
Children have a weaker immunity system and their bodies are still developing. This makes them more vulnerable to the poisons in smoke than adults. Secondhand smoking can aggravate asthma and respiratory diseases as well as cause ear problems in young children.
According to research by the US Surgeon General, babies whose mothers were smokers during pregnancy are born with weaker than normal lungs. This could increase the risk of many heart problems. These babies are also at a higher risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than babies unexposed to smoke.
While a pregnant mother should not expose her fetus to the harmful toxins in smoke, she should not be exposed to secondhand smoking either. In addition to the harm it can cause, passive smoking is known to also decrease female fertility. This makes it harder to conceive a baby.
A US study showed that secondhand smoke exposure can endanger pets as well. In the research, longer exposure to the smoke caused an increase in the likelihood of cats developing health complications.
Many non-smokers think that by avoiding smoking, they are caring for their health and well-being. The problem is that they have no control over other people’s smoking. Non-smokers involuntary take in smoke through passive smoking, unaware of the dangers this poses to them.
Several studies highlight that exposure to secondhand smoking increases the risk of developing heart diseases by 25 to 30 percent. It can also increase the risk of lung cancer in non-smokers by 20 to 30 percent. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded in its latest report that secondhand smoking is carcinogenic to humans.
In addition to these long-term effects, exposure to passive smoking can cause short-term symptoms. These can range from coughing or wheezing to severe headaches and nausea. If a person suffers from asthma, passive smoking can cause significant decline in their lung function.
100 Percent Smoke-Free Environments
Researchers have been working for many years to determine a threshold for the level of smoke to be tolerated. However, all results point to one fact: there are no acceptable levels of tobacco smoke that would cause no harm to non-smokers.
Options such as segregating smokers from non-smokers or ventilating the room are not enough to eliminate secondhand smoke exposure. According to WHO, ventilation systems 100 times above common standards would be needed just to remove the odor of smoking. Even higher ventilation rates would be needed to remove all toxins in smoke. Such a level of ventilation is neither viable no affordable.
If you are a smoker, the best way to protect your family and loved ones is to quit smoking. This will also protect you from the adverse effects of smoking.
Meanwhile, there are several options to decrease your family’s exposure to passive smoking. A good start is not smoking inside the house or in the car. Make smoking an outdoor experience only. Such smoke-free rules are actually proven to help people quit smoking as well. Another good option is persuading businesses to adopt smoke-free areas. Workplaces continue to be a major area of secondhand smoke exposure.
The tobacco industry usually promotes the “courtesy of choice,” where smokers and non-smokers live in harmony, to counter the requirements of 100 percent smoke-free environments. Voluntary actions do not offer enough protection to non-smokers. That is why there is a need for legislation for 100 percent smoke-free environments.
Some people, especially those affiliated with the tobacco industry, claim that smoking bans infringe on the rights of smokers. The truth is that while smokers have the choice to smoke, non-smokers are involuntarily being exposed to secondhand smoke.
It is important to remember that most people are non-smokers, and many smokers wish to quit but do not have the will to. Smoke bans are not there to infringe on the rights of smokers, but to promote the rights of others to breathe clean, healthy air and not have to worry about poisons they intake.
To choose to smoke is an act of free will. But to choose to harm others is a selfish act.