Hidden Smoke: The Dangers of Passive Smoking

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Hidden Smoke: The Dangers of Passive Smoking

Smoking is a common pastime many enjoy. Most individuals encountered cigarettes during adolescents due to familial and peer influences. A couple cigarettes a day can easily progress to a couple packs per day as a result of the addictive nature of nicotine. This powerful neurochemical offers anecdotal benefits to everyday life such as stress relief, improved concentration, and appetite suppression. However, rarely does one encounter anyone who can list the numerous health benefits of tobacco cigarettes. Furthermore, decades of research highlight the connection between cigarette smoking and increased risk of coronary artery disease, hypertension, chronic obstructive lung disease, cancer, and pneumonia. Cigarette smoking not only impacts the lives of users but also those of non-users through passive smoking.

The most common example of passive smoking is secondhand smoke that bystanders inhale when they are in the vicinity of smokers. However, passive smoking also includes thirdhand smoking which represents the residual smoke particulates that are inhaled from objects in the smoker’s environment such as clothes, car, furniture, and the walls of their homes. In fact, research has shown that secondhand smoke is more dangerous than firsthand smoke as it contains higher concentrations of arsenic, cyanide, ammonia, and carbon monoxide. When inhaled, these chemicals inhibit appropriate delivery of oxygen to tissues and organs. Thus, impairing the body’s ability to function at optimal capacity.

Often infants and children are more critically affected by the toxic substances found in passive smoke due to their naïve immune systems. These residual particles are irritants to heart and lungs which predispose individuals to inflammation and infection in these vital organ systems.  The American Medical Association states that children who grow in a smoker’s household are at increased risk of developing asthma, seasonal allergies, and upper respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and ear infections compared to their peers. In addition, living in an environment permeated by tobacco smoking increases the likelihood of premature death in children, the risk of chronic heart and lung disease, and impairs brain development.

Advancements in technology have led to the creation of e-cigarettes and vapes. While these devices offer cleaner and more socially acceptable smoking options, the vast array of synthetic chemicals that are aerosolized when vaping also exposes others to toxic particles through passive smoking. Although the method of nicotine enjoyment is different, the result is the same when one inhales aerosolized substances and spreads them into their surroundings. Therefore, the best environment is a smoke-free one.

The first method of creating a smoke-free environment is to quit smoking. However, that is often easier said than done. For those who need assistance, talk to your primary care provider for options that best suit you. The second method includes not smoking in enclosed private and public spaces where residual particulates can be distributed to. The final method of creating a smoke-free environment is to educate friends and family about the ill effects of passive smoking and encourage them to create a heathy environment for themselves and others. Say yes to a smoke-free environment and no to passive smoke.

Dr. Kemuel Telemaque is a first-year Internal Medicine Resident Physician at White River Medical Center. He is based in South Florida and obtained his MD and MPH from Loma Linda University in Southern California. His hobbies include running, hiking, cooking, soccer, and spending time with friends.