Second Hand Smoke and the Hazards Presented in Your House

Authored by Dr. Jeff Bennert

When people smoke cigarettes, they are creating an environment that puts their health and potentially their very lives at risk. Unfortunately, the threat doesn’t just end there, as cigarette fumes are also a threat to the health of others who breathe them in. These fumes, called secondhand smoke or environmental tobacco smoke, contain hundreds of toxic chemicals, including some that are carcinogenic (cancer-causing). These chemicals include lead, formaldehyde, ammonia, methane, carbon monoxide, and nicotine. While smoking outdoors presents a harmful exposure risk to nearby nonsmokers, it is especially hazardous in enclosed areas like a house or inside of a car. This is due to the fact that cigarette smoke will permeate the air in an entire closed space, especially one’s home.

Dangers of Secondhand Smoke

Nonsmokers exposed to cigarette smoke in the air risk immediate problems such as constricted blood vessels and increased levels of LDL cholesterol, the harmful type of cholesterol. It can aggravate asthma and other breathing problems due to the damage that it does to lungs. In addition, health problems due to secondhand smoke have been found to be responsible for the deaths of more than 2.5 million nonsmokers since 1964, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than 7,000 deaths due to lung cancer alone are attributed to environmental tobacco smoke as well as more than 33,000 deaths as a result of heart disease. Secondhand tobacco smoke also can linger for months on furniture and other surfaces, presenting a continuous danger to others.

When it comes to secondhand smoke in the home, children are more vulnerable than adults to health issues. For instance, infants in homes where parents smoke are more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. In addition, children exposed to secondhand smoke are statistically more likely to suffer from weaker lungs, asthma, and more frequent bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia. Pregnant women who breathe in secondhand smoke risk premature births and miscarriages as well as babies with lower birth weights and a number of other serious and potentially fatal health problems. Children exposed to secondhand smoke run the risk of a lifetime of additional problems, including heart disease, lung cancer, and breathing problems due to inhibited lung development. Exposure of children to environmental tobacco smoke results in more than 150,000 respiratory-related infections in infants per year as well as more than 7,500 medical issues requiring hospitalization.

Preventative Measures

When it comes to keeping the air clean at home, there is no reasonably safe or effective way to remove environmental tobacco smoke by means of ventilation. Even smoke-free rooms are vulnerable to infiltration from secondhand cigarette fumes. The only way to keep residents of a home safe from cigarette smoke is to not allow any smoking within the building. One way to prevent exposure to cigarette smoke in the home is to make sure that anyone who smokes does so outdoors, away from the house and its windows and doors. Another way is to encourage people who live in the home to quit smoking. Smoking cessation programs are available as well as cigarette substitutes such as nicotine gum, which help smokers break their nicotine addiction.