Cigarette smoking gives out toxic compounds that are all-pervading and long-persisting. And it is now fully clear that it is not only the smoker but also the all the people around them that are affected by smoking-related toxicity. I am referring to second-hand or even third-hand smoking also known as environmental smoke.
Current estimates indicated that almost 90 million non-smoking Americans are still exposed to the toxic chemicals coming from another person’s cigarette. The sad thing is, a large number of people exposed to environmental smoke are children and exposure occurs within the 4 walls of home. And their exposure to cigarette-associated toxins is clearly evident in their blood. According to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and (CDC) Dr. Thomas Frieden:
This statement is based on data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 1999 to 2008. Exposure to second-hand smoke was measured in terms of levels of cotinine, the primary nicotine metabolite in the blood serum. Cotinine is detectable in blood samples even days after exposure.
The results showed that about 88 million non-smokers aged 3 or older are exposed to second-hand smoke and showed cotinine levels of ≥0.05 ng/mL. Prevalence of exposure was highest among
- non-Hispanic blacks
- children aged 3 to 11 years old
- adolescents aged 12 to 19 years old
- those in households below the federal poverty level
- those in households with at least 1 smoker
Since 2007, the prevalence of exposure to second-hand smoke has declined probably as a consequence of smoking bans and increased public awareness. However, it still remains a major public health concern.
What are the health effects of second-hand smoke?
“Secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, middle ear disease, exacerbated asthma, respiratory symptoms, and decreased lung function in children. [And] no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure exists.”
How can we make sure that our family especially our children are not exposed?
“The only way to protect nonsmokers fully is to eliminate smoking in indoor spaces. Continued efforts at smoking cessation and comprehensive statewide laws prohibiting smoking in workplaces and public places are needed to ensure that all nonsmokers are protected from this serious health hazard. Health-care providers should educate patients and parents about the dangers of secondhand smoke and follow clinical care guidelines to help smokers quit.”
The complete report is published at CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.