Second Hand Smoke

More than 1,000 non-smokers will die this year in Canada due to tobacco use over 300 lung cancer deaths and at least 700 deaths from coronary heart disease will be caused by second-hand smoke.

  • Second-hand smoke is a combination of poisonous gases, liquids, and breathable particles that are harmful to our health.
  • Second-hand smoke consists of mainstream smoke, the smoke inhaled and exhaled by the smoker, and sidestream smoke, the smoke released directly from the end of a burning cigarette.
  • Second-hand smoke contains over 4,000 chemical compounds, 50 of which are associated with, or known to cause cancer.
  • Two thirds of the smoke from a burning cigarette is not inhaled by the smoker but enters into the surrounding environment. The contaminated air is inhaled by anyone in that area.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has officially labeled second-hand smoke as a Class A' cancer-causing substance. Class A is considered the most dangerous of cancer agents and there is no known safe level of exposure.
  • Second-hand smoke has twice as much nicotine and tar as the smoke that smokers inhale. It also has five times the carbon monoxide, which decreases the amount of oxygen in our blood.

My home is smoke-free. My car is smoke-free. If someone wants to light up, I ask them to go outside, or if we are traveling, I will stop. You do not need to suffer through someone else's addiction.

Sources: Health Canada, U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare

Second-Hand Smoke Facts

Second-hand smoke causes disease and death in healthy non-smokers.

  • Exposure for as little as 8 to 20 minutes causes physical reactions linked to heart and stroke disease
  • The heart rate increases
  • The heart's oxygen supply decreases
  • Blood vessels constrict which increases blood pressure and makes the heart work harder

The health effects on children exposed to second-hand smoke include Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and breathing problems in children as young as 18 months of age.

Children exposed to second-hand smoke in their homes are more likely to suffer breathing problems such as asthma and damage to their lungs. Children are twice as likely to smoke if their parents are smokers.

If you are a non-smoker, exposure to second-hand smoke increases your chance of lung cancer by 25%, heart disease by 10%, and cancer of the sinuses, brain, breast, uterine cervix, thyroid, as well as leukemia and lymphoma.

Although only 3 in 10 people report being exposed to second-hand smoke, 9 in 10 people have detectable levels in their bodies. The test measures exposure that has occurred over the last 3 days.

Second-hand smoke is a major source of indoor air pollution, and the greatest source of air particle pollution.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the risk of developing cancer from exposure to second-hand smoke is about 57 times greater than the total risk posed by all outdoor air contaminants regulated under U.S. environmental law.

More than three times as many infants die from second-hand smoke-related Sudden Infant Death Syndrome as from child abuse or homicide.

Source: Health Canada ; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Controlling Second-Hand Smoke

Increasing ventilation will dilute the smoke but will not make it safe, since there is no known safe level of exposure to cancer-causing agents. Restricting smokers to separate rooms will only help if these rooms have their own ventilation systems.

Electronic air filters and air purifiers may remove some smoke particles from the air, but they cannot remove those that have settled on food, furnishings, skin and other surfaces. Their effect on the gaseous components of second-hand smoke is unknown.

There is only one way to eliminate second-hand smoke from indoor air: remove the source.

Managing Second Hand Smoke of Others

Be brave. Start with the understanding that smoking is not just a habit. Most often, it is an addiction that's very difficult to beat. So, smokers need your help and understanding. In fact, you may find that most smokers want to understand and respect the right of others to breathe clean air.

Here are some steps you can take:

  • First, get the smoke outside. Ensure that smokers understand that you and others have the right to breathe clean air indoors. Designate your home a smoke free zone and ask them politely to smoke outside.
  • Second, spread the word. Discuss health issues related to second-hand smoke and smoking in a constructive and informed manner.
  • Thirdly, support or organize local campaigns for smoke free environments workplaces as well as public environments like restaurants, bars, and shopping malls by contacting your municipality's health office or your elected representative.
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