When I was in my twenties, I had the unfortunate experience of working with a chain smoker. She was training me to take over her job and for three months we shared an office. This was before smoking was banned in the work place and one of the worst experiences of my life. I would go home at night with my skin, hair and clothing impregnated with cigarette smoke and the office smelt like an ashtray. It was a relief when she finally left.
What is Second Hand Smoke
I wondered at the time if second hand smoke was harmful and have since learnt that it is. The health website, Everybody, explains that second hand smoke comes from two sources: the smoke that comes from the end of a burning cigarette and the smoke that is exhaled by a smoker. This smoke is a potent combination of more than 4000 chemicals, including cyanide, DDT, acetone, carbon monoxide, arsenic, formaldehyde and sulphur dioxide. More than 50 of the 4000 chemicals are associated with cancer.
Health Problems Caused by Passive Smoking
In their book, Your Guide to Lung Cancer, Doctors David Gilligan and Robert Rintoul devote a section to the effects of passive smoking. They say that in recent years there has been much concern in the medical field about people who live and work with smokers. Statistics have shown that a person married to a smoker has a 30% greater chance of developing lung cancer. People who are in close contact with smoke through friends or work situations are 20% more likely to develop lung cancer.
Another serious health concern is heart disease. A person breathing second hand smoke has a 23% greater chance of developing heart disease. A New Zealand study showed that the possibility of strokes increased by 82% and the chance of asthma increased by 40 to 60%.
While lung cancer is arguably the greatest concern, people exposed to second hand smoke may suffer a number of other problems. These include irritation of the eyes and throat, headaches, coughing and nausea. Adults with asthma can experience a decline in lung function and it has been proved that thirty minutes of exposure to second hand smoke can reduce blood flow to the heart. Children may suffer respiratory problems and second hand smoke has been linked to SIDS.
Because of the myriad health concerns, it is best to avoid cigarette smoke as much as possible. Ask smokers to leave the house or building to smoke and request they don’t smoke in the car. While the effects of passive smoking are serious, research has shown that the risks are considerably reduced within two years of completely avoiding second hand smoke.
Your Guide to Lung Cancer, Dr David Gilligan and Dr Robert Rintoul, Bookpoint, 2007
Everybody Health Website