The dangers of smoking have been known for years now. But more recently, experts have cautioned that breathing in someone else's secondhand smoke is also hazardous to health.
Secondhand smoke — a combination of the smoke coming from the burning end of a cigarette or cigar (sidestream smoke) and the smoke that is exhaled by a smoker (mainstream smoke) — is almost as dangerous as smoking.
Smokers might not intend to put the people around them in danger, but they are. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds — from arsenic and ammonia to hydrogen cyanide — many of which increase the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Breathing in secondhand smoke can significantly increase someone's risk for:
So secondhand smoke doesn't just affect kids in the future. It can cause problems now, like affecting sports performance or the ability to be physically active.
Even now that fewer people are lighting up, chances are that someone in your family or someone you know still smokes. But it's never healthy to breathe in tobacco smoke — even occasional or short-term exposure can take a toll on the body.
If you smoke, try to quit. If you have other smokers in the family, offer support and encouragement to help them kick the habit. Quitting isn't easy because smoking is highly addictive. But there are many support groups and tobacco-free programs available to help people stop.
If you can't make your family completely smoke-free, you can still help protect your kids (and yourself!) from secondhand smoke by enforcing these two practical habits:
Nonsmoking adults can more easily walk away from other people's smoke at home, work, restaurants, even friends' and family members' houses. But sometimes kids need help from their parents to lead smoke-free lives. So don't be afraid to speak up if someone is smoking near your child. Politely ask the person not to, but be prepared to move away from the smoker if the situation becomes uncomfortable.
Taking a stand on secondhand smoke will keep your whole family much healthier, and might even inspire others in your life to think about ending their unhealthy habit.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: November 2011
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