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Articles Passive Smoking - Harmful Effects Of Secondhand Smoke

Passive Smoking - Harmful Effects Of Secondhand Smoke

Principal Author / Publisher:Safetyhow Admin
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You need not be an active smoker to experience the harmful effects of smoke from a cigarette, cigar or pipe. Breathing in the smoke of other active smokers is enough to cause you serious damage.

A majority of us took to smoking, for our own personal reasons. Maybe tensions, maybe friend circle, or maybe we thought smoking was cool. Today, when we look back, we can hardly tell when the transformation from just one trial cigarette to an addiction, took place. But, do we realize that our decision of smoking can be affecting the lives of the people around us too? Have we thought, that those people are not only strangers, but can be our loved ones too? Do we know, that our habit of smoking can be the cause of their illnesses? Read about passive smoking, and how it can take a toll on your family and friends.

Breathing of smoke caused by the cigarette, pipe or cigar of an active smoker, is known as passive smoking. It is also known as involuntary smoking or secondhand smoking. Secondhand smoke is also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). In passive smoking, the person is forced to breathe 'sidestream smoke' from the burning tip of a cigarette/cigar/pipe, and 'mainstream' smoke, which is inhaled and then exhaled by the active smoker.

Today, secondhand smoke is one of the major sources of indoor air pollution.

Who is at Risk?

Every passive smoker is at a risk of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. ETS causes the maximum damage to fetuses, infants, and small children by damaging their developing organs, mainly the lungs and brain.

Fetus and Newborn

Pregnant women who smoke are advised to quit the habit. Smoking causes them lesser harm than the developing fetus. Birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, combined with a low birth weight, have been noticed in cases where the mother is known to be a smoker. If the mother continues to smoke even after giving birth, the production of milk reduces. The chances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) too, increases due to maternal smoking.


Secondhand smoke and children are a lethal combination. Children are affected the most by it, especially when it happens at home. ? All the organs of a child are in the developing stage, and breathing in smoke can mainly impair proper development of the lungs and brain. Children exposed constantly to secondhand smoke tend to develop childhood asthma, which could worsen with further exposure. ? Sinusitis, cystic fibrosis and chronic respiratory diseases get worse when a suffering child is forced into passive smoking. Other diseases that are caused due to passive smoking, and can be very difficult for small children to cope with, are bronchitis and pneumonia. ? Many children exposed to secondhand smoke develop an infection in the middle ear. The inhaled smoke irritates the Eustachian tube, that connects the back of the nose to the middle ear. This irritation causes a swelling and obstruction, which causes an imbalance of pressure equalization in the middle ear. This causes fluid retention and infection in the middle ear, which is very painful for the child. If diagnosed and treated in time, it is totally curable, but if treatment is delayed, it could even lead to permanent reduction in hearing.

Involuntary inhalation of secondhand smoke can have a variety of immediate effects. They are:

  • Cough
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Eye irritation
  • Sore throat
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty in breathing for those already suffering from asthma


The smoke released from the burning tip of the cigarette and the exhaled smoke of a smoker, stays in the air for several hours, after being liberated. Although the smoke may lose its odor, and may not be visible to the naked eye of a person, it is present in the air and you are still breathing it.

Secondhand smoking contains numerous toxic chemicals (about 4000). Hence, a passive smoker is prone to lung cancer and other diseases caused by passive smoking. It is believed that people who are constantly in a smoking environment, breathe in a certain amount of smoke that is equal to smoking 60 to 150 cigarettes in a year. Sidestream smoke contains a higher level of cancer compounds, as compared to mainstream smoke.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has suggested, that one-third of the children who are exposed to smoke at home, lose their lives because of the effects of the smoke they inhale. About 192 countries have agreed, that passive smoking leads to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), asthma and pneumonia. According to the global health body, 1,65,000 people die of respiratory problems due to inhaling smoke in Africa and Southeast Asia.

Passive smoking leads to blood clots, as it makes the blood sticky. The lungs don't function properly causing respiratory problems. It infects the blood vessels and also narrows the arteries. It leads to middle ear infections that can also result in deafness.

Long-term involuntary smoking increases the risk of smoking-related diseases. A person exposed to involuntary smoking over a period of time, could be infected by one or more of the following diseases.

Lung cancer
Ischemic heart disease
Harmful effect on the cardiovascular system, increasing the chances of a heart attack
Coronary heart diseases
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Chest pain
Nasal sinus cancer
Chest pain
Throat cancer
Breast cancer
Respiratory problems

There is absolutely no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Even short exposures to passive smoking could decrease coronary flow velocity reserves, reducing heart rate variability, all potentially increasing the risk of heart attack.

Reducing the Risk

If you are a smoker, there are many ways in which you can save others around you from passive smoking. Stop smoking. This is the best advise. It will not just benefit you, but everyone around you. If it is difficult (which it will be), consult your physician who could help.

If you do not intend on giving up cigarette smoking, avoid smoking at home. Whenever you feel the urge to smoke, go outside the house where nobody will be at a risk of your secondhand smoke. Never smoke in the car.

Smoking in public places is banned almost everywhere, but even if it is allowed, don't smoke where there is a large concentration of people. You could be causing someone unintentional harm.

How to Quit?

If you have been a smoker for several years, quitting all of a sudden would require a lot of determination. Your family and friends can help by motivating you. But, if your nicotine cravings makes it all the more tough, and you feel that smoking is not something you can sacrifice, then you can substitute cigarettes with nicotine tablets, patches, gum, lozenges, sprays, etc.

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