Assessing the Risk of Secondhand Smoke

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Here’s some news from the West Coast — an environmental agency in California has classified tobacco smoke as toxic. Specifically, the California Air Resources Board has labeled wafting cigarette fumes as a “toxic air contaminant.” What effect this will have on someone’s ability light up whenever he or she wishes is yet to be seen, but it’s certainly an interesting move for those of us who don’t imbibe in cigarettes yet have to deal with secondhand smoke.

 The classification is the first ever in the U.S. and it could lead to tougher regulations on smoking in California (a state that is a forerunner in health regulations). Last year, researchers found that roughly 16% of all Californians smoked — a very low and heartening figure, health wise. But that pales to the incredible 56% of adults and 64% of adolescents in the state who are exposed to secondhand smoke. That is a large number of people suffering from the effects of a bad habit that is held by a comparatively tiny group. It doesn’t seem right, does it?

 Here’s what they also know: Up to 5,500 Californians who do not smoke die every year because of heart disease caused by secondhand smoke. Another 1,100 die from lung cancer due to secondhand smoke. This is not surprising — secondhand smoke can be extremely damaging. Scientists are continuing to discover the different kinds of damage that secondhand smoke can cause a nonsmoker.

 Here are a few of the things that we know about secondhand smoke:

 — It contains 60 different carcinogens. — It is the third leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S. — It causes 3,000 deaths due to lung cancer and 35,000 due to heart disease each year in the U.S. alone. — Nonsmokers are 25% more likely to develop serious heart conditions when exposed to smoke in their environment. — It is particularly dangerous for children — and critically damaging for unborn babies. — It causes the buildup of fluid in the middle ear and it aggravates asthma symptoms. — Even brief exposure is as bad as actively smoking. — All patients at risk of heart conditions should avoid any smoking environment. — Regular exposure raises the risk of stroke by 50%. — Separating smokers and nonsmokers in the same airspace does not prevent exposure. — It increases the risk of lung, nasal, and sinus cancers. — It raises the risk of developing all respiratory illnesses. — Is a “neurotoxin” that impairs our ability to learn. – It initiates the hardening of the arteries.

 Anyway you look at it the secondhand smoke phenomenon is scary. You should avoid having smokers in your house, place of work, or any other places that you inhabit. And if you are a smoker, be aware that you are putting more than your own health at serious risk.

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