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The Dangers of Secondhand Smoke


Talk about a double whammy. If you're a smoker, it's not just the cigarette smoke you directly inhale that hurts you. It's also the secondhand smoke. That's the combination of smoke from the burning end of the cigarette, pipe, or cigar as well as smoke that you exhale. According to a recent study, the impact of secondhand smoke from smoking 14 cigarettes is like inhaling 3 more.

 Of course, this says nothing of the impact on others – those who don't choose to smoke – your children, your partner, even your dog. For them, this may be the "gift that keeps on giving." Now there's evidence that children living with smokers have early signs of clogged arteries by the time they've turned 13, as well as other risk factors for heart disease.

      Children of smokers also have a higher risk of developing emphysema early in life, even when they don't become smokers themselves. This could be the result of lungs that never fully recover. The lung changes are dramatic enough to have shown up on CT lung scans of nearly 1,800 non-smokers who lived with at least one smoker while growing up.

      But that's not all. Secondhand smoke may also boost your risk of getting tuberculosis (TB), a serious lung infection. A study looked at the impact on more than 15,000 non-smoking women living in Hong Kong. Those exposed to secondhand smoke were 1.5 times more likely to develop active TB than those who weren't. These women were also more likely to have developed another type of lung disease.

      This simply lengthens the list of risks already linked with secondhand smoke. For example, it's already known that it can prompt asthma in children. And, secondhand smoke increases the risk of lung and nasal sinus cancers. This should come as little surprise since secondhand smoke contains more than 50 substances that can cause cancer.

      Here's the real kicker: even third-hand smoke leaves behind a toxic "time bomb." Researchers have found that cancer-causing agents in tobacco smoke cling to many surfaces. This includes floors, carpets, drapes, walls, and furniture. Here it can hang out for up to months. And, who is most likely to pick it up? Those who explore most with their hands: children and infants. This study raises new questions about whether or not electronic cigarettes are truly safe. They may not produce smoke, but they do still produce nicotine.

      So here's the good news: Smoking bans in public places have shown how cutting secondhand smoke can help. Heart attack rates started decreasing right away as a result of smoking bans in the United States, Europe, and Canada. Three years later, the heart attack rate was reduced by a third.

      If you're a smoker and all this news is prompting you to stop, get help. I can advise you about quit-smoking aids such as nicotine patches. And you can find other quick-smoking resources in your community. Or, call the American Lung Association at 1-800-586-4872 or American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345. Stop smoking tools assist online, and visit for more information.