Inhaling environmental tobacco smoke is called passive smoking. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)1, exposure to secondhand smoke has been linked to the development of asthma, bronchitis, ear infection and pneumonia in children.
Adults may notice some short-term effects in the form of coughing… eye irritation... headaches… nausea… and sore throats. I can't be around it myself for a long period of time. It irritates my eyes to the point where I get "pink-eye" (aka conjunctivitis). So it suits me that there's less smoke around these days.
Worse still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that non-smoking adults who breathe secondhand smoke are at increased risk for heart attack.
The U.S. Surgeon General says that living with a smoker increases a nonsmoker's chances of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent. In fact, passive smoking causes about 3,400 lung cancer deaths each year among adult nonsmokers in the United States.
This is based on a straightforward comparison of households where there's a smoker to households where there isn't. It's pretty persuasive.
Here's why passive smoking is so dangerous…
Secondhand smoke is a mixture of gases and particles that smokers exhale as well as those released from the burning end of a cigarette.
According to the National Cancer Institute3, secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals—many of which are toxic and about 70 of which are carcinogens.
Let's take a look at ten terrible toxins lurking in secondhand cigarette smoke. We'll start with…
- Acetone—a chemical often used in solvents which can irritate your eyes, nose and throat. Prolonged exposure can seriously harm your liver and kidneys.
- Arsenic—this heavy metal toxin is one of the most dangerous chemicals found in cigarettes. Arsenic can severely damage your heart and blood vessels. And when arsenic builds up in your body, it prevents your DNA from repairing itself, which increases your risk of developing cancer.
- Benzene— this chemical is used as an industrial solvent and is found in vehicle emissions and gas fumes. Benzene exposure is associated with an increased risk of developing leukemia.
- Cadmium—small amounts of this metal occur naturally in air, food, soil and water. Cadmium is used to produce batteries, plastics and some metallic products. Cadmium exposure at high levels may cause health problems, including a variety of cancers.
- Chromium— good for your health when ingested in tiny amounts, but when inhaled in large amounts this metallic element is known to increase lung cancer risk. In fact, studies of mine workers exposed to chromium showed that cigarette smoking dramatically increased their risk of developing lung cancer
- Formaldehyde—a chemical used in particleboard, plywood and foam insulation as well as cigarette smoke. Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde can cause lung damage, nasal cancer, skin irritation, and stomach problems.
- Lead— the same lead found in paint, solder, and metal alloys is also an ingredient in many cigarettes! Lead exposure can damage your brain and kidneys. It can also cause anemia… stomach problems… and even damage to reproductive organs.
- Nickel—commonly used in dental fillings, stainless steel and batteries, nickel exposure can cause asthma, bronchitis and respiratory problems. Prolonged exposure has been linked to cancer of the lungs, nose and sinuses. Inhaling nickel is also thought to cause cancers of the stomach and throat.
- Polonium 210—this rare element emits alpha radiation. Inhaling polonium in cigarette smoke can cause this element to build up in the lungs. A study described by Cancer Research UK estimates that smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day provides a radiation dose equivalent to 300 chest X-rays each year!
- Vinyl Chloride—exposure to this chemical used to produce plastic is associated with an increased risk of brain, liver and lung cancers as well as leukemia and lymphoma.
Whew! That's just 10 of the thousands of chemicals you're inhaling with every breath of secondhand smoke. But some folks would have you believe that members of the scientific and medical communities are merely blowing smoke when they warn you about inhaling these toxins…
Wanna guess how the tobacco industry weighed in?
The tobacco industry responded to the claims of the medical establishment by funding their own scientific studies to exonerate passive smoking.
For example, a 2003 study4 published in the British Medical Journal claimed that no causal relationship could be established between environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco-related deaths.
The study also found that the association between secondhand smoke and diseases like heart disease and lung cancer may be "considerably weaker than generally believed."
These conclusions sharply contrast with declarations made by the EPA, the U.S. National Toxicology Program, the U.S. Surgeon General, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer—who have all classified secondhand smoke as a known human carcinogen.
A few simple steps can help you avoid
becoming a passive smoker!
So what can you do to protect yourself? Well if you're a smoker, try to limit your smoking to outdoor areas away from other people.
And if you're not a smoker, you're probably grateful for government regulations and other policies that restrict smoking on airplanes, in workplaces, some restaurants and other public venues.
One sure thing is that every step you take to reduce your exposure to cigarette toxins can certainly help prevent your good health from disappearing in a puff of smoke.