Simple First Hand Strategies to Combat Second Hand Smoke
What is Second Hand Smoke?
It’s known by a variety of names: “involuntary smoking”; “environmental smoke”; “passive smoking”; and, perhaps the most common, “second hand smoke.” These terms refer to the unintentional inhalation of a mixture of gases and particles from the smoke that a smoker exhales and/or the smoke emanating from the end of a cigarette, cigar or pipe as it burns. Research suggests that these gases and particles can contain as many as 4,000 chemicals, including small amounts of poisonous substances such as formaldehyde, ammonia, arsenic, DDT and cyanide. Exposure to second hand smoke can occur anywhere, but it’s most common in homes, cars and public spaces such as restaurants and bars. In 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General estimated that approximately 60% of nonsmokers in this country are regularly exposed to second hand smoke.
Health Problems Caused by Second Hand Smoke
The long term, life-threatening consequences of routine exposure to second hand smoke are well documented. Lung cancer is obviously the most prominent, but other cancers, such as breast cancer, renal cell carcinomas and brain tumors, have also been linked to regular second hand smoke exposure. And because exposure to the chemicals present in second hand smoke can cause inflammation of the lining of the blood vessels, involuntary smoking has been linked to heart attacks and strokes. In fact, studies suggest that over 50,000 Americans die each year from health problems caused by second hand smoke. However, second hand smoke doesn’t just pose long term risks for our health. Numerous other immediate, albeit sometimes less serious, health problems can be caused by second hand smoke exposure.
First, passive exposure to cigarette smoke can wreak havoc on the respiratory system. Particularly with young children, research shows that exposure to second hand smoke increases the risk of developing asthma and can be a trigger for asthma attacks for those already diagnosed with the condition. Second hand smoke has also been linked to respiratory infections, such as bronchitis, pneumonia and sinusitis. It is also a common cause of general respiratory irritation, which can present as coughing, wheezing, sneezing, sore throat and nasal congestion. In addition, exposure to second hand smoke can also cause ear infections, allergies, high cholesterol, and it can be a trigger for the onset of migraines. In 2010, a U.S. Surgeon General report indicated that even occasional exposure to second hand smoke can be detrimental to human health.
Ways to Reduce the Impact of Second Hand Smoke
Because the harmful effects of second hand smoke on innocent bystanders are so well documented, it should be easy to avoid these toxic chemicals as they travel with the smoke that billows from an addict’s cigarette, right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. However, the following tips could help you protect yourself against the dangers of second hand smoke.
- Encourage Local Officials to Implement a Smoking Ban. In many urban areas, ordinances prohibit smoking in public places, including restaurants and bars. Cities like Chicago even prohibit smoking outdoors within a certain distance of a public building. Even some municipalities in tobacco producing states, such as North Carolina and Virginia, have implemented no smoking policies in public buildings. If that trend hasn’t caught on in your town, voice your concerns to local officials. Unfortunately, the traditional approach of creating non-smoking areas in restaurants often does little to eliminate diners’ exposure to fumes from nearby smokers. Therefore, encouraging governmental action on a larger scale is important.
- Patronize Businesses that Protect the Rights of Nonsmokers. If you live in an area where smoking in public buildings is still permissible, make sure to reward business owners who have been courageous enough to implement their own non-smoking policies by giving them your business.
- Rally for Strict Nonsmoking Policies in the Workplace. If your employer isn’t strict about protecting the rights of non-smokers against exposure to cigarette smoke, band together with your fellow non-smoking coworkers and express your concerns to management. For example, if any smoking is permitted indoors, it should be confined to a well ventilated space that non-smokers can easily avoid. On the other hand, if smokers are forced to light up outside, they should not be permitted to linger near doorways or near the building’s ventilation system air intakes, where smoke could potentially make its way inside.
- Never Ride in a Vehicle with Someone Who is Smoking. Even if the air conditioner is pumping and the windows are down, some cigarette smoke won’t escape and will likely affect the passengers in a car. And, if you’ve ever ridden in a car with a smoker, you’re no doubt familiar with the phenomenon that cigarette smoke tends to linger for what seems like an eternity. If you can detect the unmistakable odor of cigarette smoke, chances are at least trace amounts of the dangerous chemicals described above may still be around.
- Take Special Care When Traveling. As suggested above, smoking policies vary drastically from one place to the next. Therefore, do your research before traveling. Fortunately, our government has outlawed smoking on airline flights, where air is constantly recycled. However, make sure to inquire about non-smoking hotel rooms. And look into non-smoking restaurants and other venues when you arrive at your destination.
- Use Extreme Caution with Children. Because children are particularly susceptible to some of the harmful effects of second hand smoke, great care should be given to protect them. Parents should closely monitor the adults who care for their children, including babysitters, day care workers, and even the parents of friends. Unfortunately, a parent can’t reasonably be expected to shield a child from second hand smoke exposure 24 hours a day, but making sure you’re familiar with the adults around your kids at all times can help ensure they are adequately protected.
Marni Mutrux is a content manager for V2Cigs, which offers an innovative electronic cigarette, a newer non-smoking alternative. From this experience, Marni has learned a tremendous amount about the intricacies of marketing and the often diverse and adaptive solutions that are necessary. Marni blogs about trends and events related to the industry at the V2Cigs Blog.