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Secondhand Smoke
Healthy Indoor Air in Mohawk Homes What you can do about secondhand smoke as Parents, Decision Makers and Building Occupants.

What is Secondhand Smoke?

Secondhand smoke is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers.

This mixture contains more than 4,000 substances, more than 40 of which are known to cause cancer in humans or animals and many of which are strong irritants.

Secondhand smoke is also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS); exposure to secondhand smoke is called involuntary smoking, or passive smoking.

Secondhand Smoke can cause Lung Cancer in Nonsmokers!

Secondhand smoke has been classified by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a known cause of lung cancer in humans (Group A carcinogen).

Passive smoking is estimated by EPA to cause approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths in nonsmokers each year.

Secondhand Smoke is a Serious Health Risk to Children.

The developing lungs of young children are also affected by exposure to secondhand smoke.

Infants and young children whose parents smoke are among the most seriously affected by exposure to secondhand smoke, being at increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis. EPA estimates that passive smoking is responsible for between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in infants and children under 18 months of age annually, resulting in between 7,500 and 15,000 hospitalizations each year.

Children exposed to secondhand smoke are also more likely to have reduced lung function and symptoms of respiratory irritation like cough, excess phlegm, and wheeze.

Passive smoking can lead to a buildup of fluid in the middle ear, the most common cause of hospitalization of children for an operation.

Asthmatic children are especially at risk. EPA estimates that exposure to secondhand smoke increases the number of episodes and severity of symptoms in hundreds of thousands of asthmatic children. EPA estimates that between 200,000 and 1,000,000 asthmatic children have their condition made worse by exposure to secondhand smoke. Passive smoking may also cause thousands of non-asthmatic children to develop the condition each year.

Other Health Implications:

Exposure to secondhand smoke causes irritation of the eye, nose and throat.

Passive smoking can also irritate the lungs, leading to coughing, excess phlegm, chest discomfort, and reduced lung function.

Secondhand smoke may affect the cardiovascular system, and some studies have linked exposure to secondhand smoke with the onset of chest pain.

A Special Message for Smokers

This is a difficult time to be a smoker. As the public becomes more aware that smoking is not only a hazard to you but also to others, non-smokers are becoming more outspoken, and smokers are finding themselves a beleaguered group.

If you chose to smoke, here are some things you can do to help protect the people close to you:

Don't smoke around children. Their lungs are very susceptible to smoke. If you are expecting a child, quit smoking.

Take an active role in the development of your company's smoking policy. Encourage the offering of smoking cessation programs for those who want them.

Keep your home smoke free. Nonsmokers can get lung cancer from exposure to your smoke. Because smoke lingers in the air, people may be exposed even if they are not present while you smoke. If you must smoke inside, limit smoking to a room where you can open windows for cross-ventilation. Be sure the room in which you smoke has a working smoke detector to lessen the risk of fire.

Test your home for radon. Radon contamination in combination with smoking is a much greater health risk than either one individually.

Don't smoke in an automobile with the windows closed if passengers are present. The high concentration of smoke in a small, closed compartment substantially increases the exposure of other passengers. More than two million people quit smoking every year, most of them on their own, without the aid of a program or medication. If you want to quit smoking, assistance is available. Smoking cessation programs can help. Your employer may offer programs, or ask your doctor for advice.

Information reprinted from Secondhand Smoke, What You Can Do About Secondhand Smoke As Parents, Decision makers, and Building Occupants, prepared by the Air and Radiation Office, US EPA, July 1993.