Why Secondhand Smoke Is So Dangerous

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by Daniel McClain on Sep 17, 2014

We’ve known about the dangers of secondhand smoke for several decades now. Because of the ubiquitous anti-smoking ads you see on TV and billboards, secondhand smoke can sometimes be overlooked.

It’s probably a good idea to remind ourselves from time to time exactly how damaging secondhand smoke can be. Here is a short refresher on the adverse health effects of secondhand smoke, and how you can protect your family.

Secondhand smoke and heart disease

There is no safe level of secondhand smoke. For nonsmokers who are exposed at home or at work, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), secondhand smoke raises the risk of heart disease by up to 30%.

The CDC recommends that people who have or are at-risk for heart disease should avoid being around smokers, because breathing even a small amount of secondhand smoke can have immediate adverse effects.

Secondhand smoke and Lung Cancer 

Lung cancer caused by tobacco smoke

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Toxicology Program, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer all classify secondhand smoke as a “known human carcinogen.”

Sidestream smoke (from a cigarette, cigar, etc.) and mainstream smoke (exhaled by the smoker) contain over 7,000 chemicals—69 of which are known to cause cancer.

According to the CDC, over 7,300 lung cancer deaths (among non-smokers) in the U.S. can be linked to secondhand smoke. Regular exposure to secondhand smoke can raise your risk of getting lung cancer by as much as 30%.

Secondhand smoke and children

Children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. In addition to raising the risks of developing lung cancer and heart disease, children exposed to secondhand smoke have weakened immune systems, and they more frequently catch illnesses including:

  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Ear infections
  • More frequent and severe asthma attacks (for children with asthma)

To help protect your children from secondhand smoke, make sure nobody is allowed to smoke in or around your house, or in your car even with windows rolled down. Avoid public places, like restaurants, where smoking might still be legal in your state.

Even small amounts of secondhand smoke are bad for you and your children. Remember to talk to your children about the dangers of smoking—and include the dangers of secondhand smoke as well. 

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