Second Hand Smoke and Associated Dangers

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Second hand smoke is cigarette smoke that is inhaled by non-smokers. It is basically environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). This smoke is inhaled by non-smokers when they share the same immediate environment with smokers. In it part of the smoke is inhaled and exhaled (mainstream smoke) by the smokers, some cigarette smoke hangs in the surrounding air (sidestream smoke), and some of it is inhaled by non-smokers.

Part of the second hand smoke inhaled by a non-smoker is because of the cigarette smoke that hangs in the air from the burning cigarette held in the hand of a smoker. The other part of it arises from the smoke exhaled by a smoker. Non-smokers such as children, who are not aware of the health dangers arising from cigarette smoke usually fall victim to its hazards.

Infants in their initial year of life are especially susceptible to second hand smoke. If their mother or another person smokes in the same room they can die a sudden death (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, SIDS). If pregnant women stay in the same room in which a smoker is puffing away, it not only can impact their health, but even the development of the fetuses they carry (such as low birth weight).

Older children who inhale second hand smoke can become susceptible to eye watering, irritation in eyes, followed by coughing, and then asthma. It can also cause ear infections in children and dental cavities.

Cigarette smoke is very harmful for any person, regardless whether a smoker or a non-smoker is involved. The contention that second-hand smoke is not harmful is erroneous. Cigarette smoke, whether first hand or second hand, is equally harmful for the health of a person as it contains about 4000 toxic or carcinogenic substances. Nicotine in it is commonly known to people because it causes addiction to cigarette smoking in the first place.

However, some other substances in cigarette smoke contribute towards oral, lung, cervical, or bladder cancer. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has listed even second hand cigarette smoke as a carcinogen (in Group A). Regardless of the level of second hand smoke in the immediate atmosphere, it is a big health risk to non-smokers as it can cause heart disease besides cancer. Proper ventilation in the room even serves as very little protection to non-smokers.

The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke is toxic for human beings. When inhaled by non-smokers its presence makes less oxygen available to the tissues in their bodies. Without adequate oxygen, tissues can die a slow death because of the carbon monoxide. Arsenic, formaldehyde, and tarry benzene in second hand cigarette smoke are very toxic substances for human beings.

To prevent health hazards due to second hand smoke, it is important to isolate smokers from other people. Clearly marked exclusive smoking zones can help. Banning smoking in homes, work, and public places is another option. Formulating and strictly implementing laws that prohibit people from smoking in the presence of children and non-smoking members of their families is also an option.