Jessamine County Coroner

Second Hand Smoke

Since I wrote about the harmful effects of smoking in April, I thought this would be a great time to cover the facts about second hand smoke. Many people think this is just a political issue about who had the right to smoke, and who has the right to a smoke-free environment. While this is true to a certain point, for many, its more about the harmful effects that it causes for the non-smoker, who happens to be sharing the same space with the smoker.

So let’s talk about the facts as they relate to harmful effects of second hand smoke. The smoke which the smoker inhales into their lungs is referred to as mainstream smoke. The smoke that is exhaled by the smoker, as well as that which drifts from the burning end of the cigarette is side-stream smoke. Generally all of the effects of second hand smoke occur in our homes, vehicles and public spaces such as restaurants and bars. The more confined the space is, the higher the risks become for the non-smoker.

While we know that smoking affects the smoker with diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease, we don’t often associate these diseases with second hand smoke. When second hand smoke was evaluated in government studies, it was found to have an increased concentration of cancer-causing agents (carcinogens), as well as smaller particles which can penetrate more deeply into the lungs and body cells of those who inhale it.

This makes the risk of developing cardiovascular and other disease very real to the exposed non-smoker, not to mention aggravating many pre-existing conditions. As a respiratory therapist, I have heard many times from patients who were diagnosed with lung cancer that they never smoked, only to discover through careful history taking, that they were exposed to second hand smoke, many even as early as infancy. It is estimated that second hand smoke is responsible for 46 thousand heart disease deaths every year among non-smokers in the U.S. The risk of such exposure includes not only lung cancer, but cancer of the voicebox, throat, brain, bladder, rectum, stomach and breast. Childhood leukemia is an additional risk for children who grow up exposed to second hand smoke. Exposure during pregnancy increased the chance of spontaneous abortion, stillborn birth and having a low birth weight baby.

Exposed infants and children often have frequent ear infections, more frequent and more severe asthma attacks and respiratory infections, and an increased risk for sudden infant death. In children aged 18 months and younger, second hand smoke contributes to 150 to 300 thousand new cases of bronchitis and pneumonia annually.

While no parent wants to inflict illness or disease on their children, too often we don’t consider the effects our smoking is having on them. When we smoke in the home or family car, our children can’t just leave or get out. When you smoke, those molecules, not to mention the obnoxious smell, are in your hair, skin, breath and clothing. Every time you hug or hold your child you are increasing their exposure to your second hand smoke.

Website Builder