By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools
Regular exposure to other people's tobacco smoke - secondhand smoke - is a threat to the health of nonsmokers.
Considered the most hazardous indoor air pollution since asbestos, secondhand tobacco smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Secondhand smoke, or "side-stream" smoke, is the smoke that curls from the smoldering part of the cigarette as it burns. This vapor carries up to 100 times the concentration of some chemicals that are inhaled by smokers. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals and at least 43 carcinogens, including formaldehyde and arsenic. There are other familiar sounding chemicals in tobacco smoke that have serious health effects:
Ammonia - irritates your lungs
Carbon monoxide - hampers breathing by reducing oxygen in the blood
Methanol - toxic when breathed or swallowed
Hydrogen cyanide - interferes with proper respiratory function
Health experts have recognized the relationship between secondhand smoke and health risks for decades. The research exploring their connections is ongoing. Some of the risks include cancer and heart disease.
Smoke-filled rooms can have up to six times the air pollution of a busy highway, and the smoke does not clear from the rooms for hours or, in some cases, weeks.
How secondhand smoke
The harms of secondhand tobacco smoke are well documented and have been known for years. Consider just a few of the facts:
Secondhand smoke kills more people than car accidents, AIDS, homicides, fires and drug abuse. (U.S. Surgeon General Report, 1992)
About 80 percent of the average nonsmoker's exposure to secondhand smoke occurs at work. (Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, Clean Indoor Air Policies, 1996)
Secondhand smoke causes 30 times more lung cancer deaths than all regulated air pollutants combined. (Facts About Secondhand Smoke, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
"After adjusting for the effects of active smoking, alcohol intake and socioeconomic status, California waitresses had death rates from lung cancer, heart disease and an overall mortality 1 times higher than those for all other female workers." (M. Siegel, M.D., M.P.H., "Smoking and Bars: A Guide for Policy Makers," 1998)
"Bar workers inhale the same amount of 4-aminobiphenyl (4ABP), a potent human carcinogen, as if they actively smoked 16 cigarettes ( pack) of cigarettes per day." (Siegel, 1998)
How secondhand smoke affects children
Secondhand smoke may have a marked effect on the health of infants and children. Some conditions of concern are:
Secondhand smoke may make asthma attacks more frequent and severe in children who already have asthma - up to 1 million each year.
Children with asthma who live with one smoker may be more than twice as likely to miss school because of a respiratory illness than are unexposed children without asthma. And if children with asthma live with two or more smokers, they may be more than four times as likely to be absent with respiratory illness.
Even children without asthma are 40 percent more likely to miss school with a respiratory ailment if they live with at least two smokers.
Secondhand smoke is also associated with up to 300,000 cases of bronchitis and pneumonia in infants and toddlers each year.
Middle ear conditions:
Children living in households with smokers are more likely to have ear infections or fluid in their ears and are more likely to need surgically placed drainage tubes in their eardrums.
Secondhand smoke may be a factor in more than 1 million children's visits to the doctor for middle ear infections every year.
Low birth weight and SIDS:
Secondhand smoke is also associated with low birth weight. Low birth weight, in turn, has been linked to increased risk in adults of stroke, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset or noninsulin-dependent diabetes).
In addition, research indicates that if a mother smokes, her infant may have twice the risk of SIDS. The increased risk may be due to an infant's improper lung and brain development and an increased number of respiratory infections caused by smoking.
How to live a smoke-free lifestyle
The way to limit your exposure to secondhand smoke is straightforward: Stay away from it and keep your children away from it whenever possible. Although air conditioning may remove the visible smoke, it can't remove the particles that continue to circulate and are hazardous to your health. Here are a few specific pointers based on suggestions from the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Lung Association:
Stop smoking. If you smoke, get help with trying to stop, and in the meantime, don't smoke in your home, in your car or around your children.
Don't allow smoking inside your home. If a family member or guest wants to smoke, ask them to step outside.
Choose a smoke-free child-care facility. If you take your children to a child-care provider, choose one with a no-smoking policy. If you provide child care, enforce a no-smoking policy.
Don't allow smoking in your vehicle. If someone must smoke on the road, stop at a rest stop for a smoke break outside the car.
Limit exposure at work. If people are still allowed to smoke in your workplace, ask your employers or union to limit or prohibit indoor smoking. Encourage smoking-cessation programs to help your co-workers end their dependence.
Patronize businesses with no-smoking policies. Support with your business restaurants and other establishments that have no-smoking policies. When you have to share a room with people who are smoking, sit as far away from them as possible.
Even if you don't smoke, secondhand smoke still can harm your health. Take steps to protect yourself from its dangers.
For more information about smoke-free lifestyles and related information, contact the Hill and Blaine County Tobacco Use Prevention Coalition at the HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club at 265-6206.