What is passive smoking?
Secondhand smoke is the fume that one involuntarily inhales after someone who smokes exhales it (called mainstream smoke), or the fume that goes directly to the atmosphere from the burning tobacco (cigarette, pipe or cigar) called side stream smoke. When non-smokers breathe in these smokes or fumes from other people’s cigarettes, cigars and pipes, this is involuntarily inhalation, called passive smoking, a more deadly source of lung diseases and cancers. Tobacco smoke contains about 4000 (yes, four thousand) chemicals, 200 of them known poisons. Some of them are benzenes, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide, which are released into the air by smokers. Not only is the smoker inhaling these poisons, but so is everyone around them.
Is secondhand smoke really more toxic?
Yes, it has been scientifically proven that secondhand smokes are more dangerous to health than firsthand smoke. The smoker, who inhales the (mainstream) smoke “filters” it so some degree before exhaling it, but the non-smoker around him/her inhales the “pure” and more dangerous side stream smoke. Besides the tar and nicotine in secondhand smoke, there are several cancer-causing substances in secondhand smoke, and in much higher concentration than in mainstream smoke. So, the person who smokes in public, around people, is giving himself/herself a lower dose of poisons, and giving his victims (family members, friends and strangers) around him/her a higher and a more deadly dose of poison. Technically, it is criminal to “spray” harmful chemicals to the atmosphere for others to breathe in, exposing them to cancer-causing agents. Obviously, the smokers do not intentionally do this to hurt his family or other people. The smoker is simply “hooked” on this addictive habit and is simply satisfying his/her urges when he/she smokes.
Does passive smoking cause cancer?
Yes, most definitely. Smokers developing lung and other cancers from smoking tobacco is a scientifically proven fact. In the United States, cancer victims of smoking and family members of smokers who died from cigarette-related illness, have sued cigarette manufacturers, and have won millions in awards. While they vehemently denied before, cigarette companies today have admitted in public that tobacco causes cancers and other lung illnesses. The courts have likewise ruled in a similar fashion in favor of victims of passive smoking (as in the airline stewardess’ case). In 1986, the Surgeon General of the United States reported that involuntary (passive) smoking can cause lung cancer in healthy non-smokers. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has now classified secondhand smoke as a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent).
Does passive smoking hurt children and infants?
More so, young children and infants are more vulnerable to tobacco smokes and fumes. Pregnant mothers who smoke, pass these dangerous substances to the fetus, causing higher incidents of smaller babies, some with diminished mental acuity, or even wit retardation, most with babies that are prone to frequent respirator infections and asthmatic attacks. Studies have shown that in their first two years of life, babies whose parent(s) smoke(s) at home have higher incidence of lung diseases such as bronchitis and pneumonia than babies of non-smokers. Smokes also aggravate asthma in children and may even precipitate attacks. Parents, especially pregnant mothers, and all of us for that matter, should not smoke, but if we have too, we should do it outside our home, and away from people.
Studies have shown that, even among children without asthma, acute respiratory illnesses occur two times more often to young children whose parents smoke around them as compared to those with on-smoking parents. Passive smoking by children (secondhand smoke exposure) is associated with 150,000 to 300,000 cases of bronchitis and pneumonia each year in infants and young children less than 18 months old. We should not be doing this to our children.
How about secondhand smoke at the workplace?
The U.S. Surgeon General’s Report of 1996 established that the simple separation of smokers and non-smokers within the same air space may reduce but NOT eliminate the risk of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. In view of this, an increasing number of state and local laws now restrict smoking at the workplace. The idea behind this law is that the preferences and rights of both the nonsmokers and the smokers should be considered whenever possible. However, when these choices conflict, the health and the preferences of nonsmokers should prevail and come first. More and more private companies, on their own, are also adopting policies that restrict smoking and protect nonsmokers.
What are the other adverse effects of smoking?
Besides the health hazards among smokers, and to those people around him who are forced to inhale secondhand smoke, tobacco smoking leads to environmental pollution. Burning tobacco causes bad odors, which cling to people’s clothes, hair, skin and even curtains, etc. In an air-conditioned room, the cooling unit demands can jump as much as 600 percent in order to control the bad odor of tobacco, which also lingers on. The bad odor is due to the burned chemical that penetrates our skin and the fabric of our clothes. The habit, which used to be so glamorous and very “in” is now “out” and considered “dirty.” It is also expensive and very offensive to nonsmokers. The prediction is that some day, smoking, in view of all these health hazards, will be tabooed, and smokers will be outcast.
What can be done about secondhand smoke?
Both the smokers and nonsmokers have their rights. Smokers have the right to smoke, even if smoking is bad for their health. People have the right to commit suicide. In the same token, nonsmokers have their rights also. They have the right to protect themselves and their children from unwanted cancer-causing smokes. Someone’s enjoyment should not be tolerated to be somebody else’s endangerment. Steps that could be taken: 1. Let family, friends and co-workers know that you mind if they smoke around you; 2. Put “No Smoking” signs in your home, car or office to make people aware; 3. Support legislation to restrict smoking in public places, like workplace or restaurant, movies, busses and other public places; 4. Propose non-smoking resolutions in your social/civic organization meetings; 5. Encourage management, unions and companies where you work to establish policies to protect nonsmokers on the job; and, help promote the concept of smoke-free families in your community. After all, we have the right to say no to poisons and cancers.
Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: email@example.com