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Health Consequences of Secondhand Smoke

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(DECEMBER 2013) Secondhand smoke is lingering cigarette or cigar smoke breathed in by non-smokers. It’s actually considered more harmful than smoking a cigarette directly because cigarettes have filters through which the smoker inhales. The person inhaling secondhand smoke doesn’t have the benefit of a filter.

There are more than 4000 chemicals contained in secondhand smoke, about 70 of which are known to cause cancer. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates nearly 50,000 deaths per year result from exposure to secondhand smoke.

Here are some of the top health consequences associated with secondhand smoke.

Cancer

As the third most common form of cancer in the U.S., lung cancer is also the most commonly associated disease when it comes to smoking and secondhand smoke. Approximately 3400 lung cancer deaths per year are attributed to secondhand smoke. The lungs, however, are not the only part of the body at risk for secondhand smoke-related cancer. There are hundreds of documented cases of other forms of cancer in which secondhand smoke was identified as the leading cause.

Heart Disease

According to the CDC, more than 45,000 people per year die from heart disease related to secondhand smoke. In fact, smoke exposure is one of the top five risk factors for heart disease. Even relatively limited exposure to secondhand smoke can have adverse effects. Secondhand smoke damages the lining of blood vessels and raises LDL cholesterol levels. These impacts contribute to increased risk of heart attack, stroke and heart damage.

Asthma

Secondhand smoke is one of the leading triggers for asthma attacks. Exposure can even cause asthma in individuals who did not previously exhibit symptoms. Secondhand smoke can also cause severe asthma attacks or exacerbate asthma symptoms. Children are most susceptible to producing new cases of asthma and should not be around secondhand smoke.

Additional Effects

People exposed to secondhand smoke are susceptible to wheezing and coughing from the irritants and lack of oxygen. Deadened sense of smell and taste are associated with prolonged secondhand smoke exposure as is shortness of breath since your body isn’t accustomed to inhaling the smoke.

How to Avoid Secondhand Smoke

There’s already a popular movement to reduce secondhand smoke in public places and venues. Institution of anti-smoking laws in restaurants, bars and public areas has led to a great reduction in secondhand smoke exposure. Ask friends and family not to not smoke around you and explain why it’s important. If they insist on lighting up anyway, step away for a few minutes and return once the air is clear.

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