Second-hand smoke is a mix of smoke emitted from the lit end of a cigarette and the smoke exhaled by smokers. Infact, since the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report, 2.5 million non-smoking adults died because they breathed second-hand smoke Not only is this smoke harmful but contains more than 7,000 chemicals, out of which hundreds are found toxic and more than 70 are cancer causing agents.
Studies and research have shown that one-third of the world population is regularly exposed to second-hand smoking. This exposure is responsible for about 1% of the global burden of diseases in the form of respiratory infections, ischemic heart diseases, lung cancer, and asthma and is causing around 600,000 premature deaths globally. There is a direct relation between second-hand smoke and negative health conditions like respiratory infections, ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, asthma, and stroke. Non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke have an increased risk of developing heart disease at least by 25%, stroke by 20%, and lung cancer by 20%. Due to such trends, the proportion of children and adolescents exposed to second-hand smoke is expected to come down.
Second- hand smoke exposure results in significant health effects. Scientific research has shown that there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke which can impact health in the following ways:
- Exposure to second-hand smoke has drastic and immediate effects on the cardiovascular system and can cause coronary heart diseases, many times resulting in strokes.
- Second- hand smoke causes lung cancer in non- smokers: These non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke either at their residence or place of work increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 20–30%. This occurs mainly due to the inhalation of the same cancer-causing substances and poisons as smokers. Infact, even brief second- hand smoke exposure can result in damaging cells which in turn trigger the cancer process.
- Second -hand smoking can also increase the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – the sudden, unexplained, unexpected death of an infant in the first year of life. SIDS is one of the leading cause of death in otherwise healthy infants. Infants who die from SIDS have higher levels of cotinine than infants who die from other causes.
- Studies have shown that second- hand smoke can cause serious health problems in children, especially with parents who smoke often. Their lungs tend to develop at a slower pace than children who grow up in a smoke-free environment. Children in smoke-free environments are more exposed to bronchitis and pneumonia.
What is being done about it
These major health risks have given rise to the establishment of clean indoor air policies in several parts of the world. These policies have helped in lowering smoking prevalence to a great extent. Clean indoor air laws and smoke free laws in place at residences, workplaces, public transportation, restaurants and bars have helped denormalize smoking through a series of policy measures.
Despite India being one of the signatories to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – a global treaty to reduce the burden of tobacco use and exposure in various forms, till date many Indian restaurants, bars, airports, and hotels continue to be exempted from clean indoor air laws. The Government of India has tried to be more active in its action towards Tobacco Control with the establishment of the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act in 2003, and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005. 2008 saw the Government of India adopt legislation for banning smoking in public places. Based on the GATS India Report, 30% of Indian adults were exposed to second-hand smoke at workplaces and 39% were exposed at home. This gap widens between rural and urban demographics with smoking allowed in 54% of rural homes as compared to 38% of urban households. India’s North-East territory is home to the country’s heaviest smokers with the five states contributing to the country’s highest percentage of adult smokers.
How to Avoid Second-hand Smoke
It’s actually pretty simple:
- Avoid being present in environments where people are smoking. Ensure that anyone who needs to smoke around you should do so within a safe distance from yourself and others.
- Ensure a smoke-free home, especially if you have children. Limiting the exposure of adults and children to smoke can help negate their chances of developing respiratory infections, asthma, cancer, and many other serious conditions.