Passive smoking – should we take it passively?


Every so often I return to one of my favorite subjects – smoking and it effects, and how to stop.  Stopping is not an easy task, once you have become a committed smoker.  Stopping requires dedication and commitment, and I congratulate all people who have given up smoking.  You have done your health profile in the future a great service.  While smoking cigarettes does not mean you will automatically get lung cancer, or other smoking related illnesses, becoming a non-smoker does guarantee that your chances of getting the above conditions are very much less.  And before the cigarette smokers out there start waving their arms (or cudgels), the evidence is in the arena of public knowledge.  Read it.  And please do not mention atmospheric pollution to me when you are happily inhaling cigarette smoke into your lungs 25 times a day.

However, there is one more aspect of smoking, which I should mention.  That is “passive” smoking.  So what exactly is passive smoking?  In essence, it is breathing in other people’s cigarette smoke, which the scientists break up into two parts – “sidestream” smoke from the burning tip of the cigarette which the scientists say accounts for 85 percent of the smoke in an enclosed area, and “mainstream” smoke that has been inhaled and then exhaled from the lungs by the smoker.  I usually refer to this 15 percent as “second-hand smoke”.

The situation associated with passive smoking has been well investigated by the scientific communities of the world, and the following information was extracted from the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health (SCOTH) in the UK.  For example, is tobacco smoke a simple compound?  No, tobacco smoke contains over 4000 chemicals in the form of particles and gases.  The particulate phase includes tar, nicotine, benzene and benzo(a)pyrene.  The gas phase includes carbon monoxide, ammonia, dimethylnitrosamine, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide and acrolein.  It has been estimated that tobacco smoke contains as many as 60 substances which cause – or are suspected of causing – cancer.  And many irritate the tissues of the respiratory system.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the USA has classified environmental tobacco smoke as a class A carcinogen – ranking it alongside asbestos and arsenic.  You don’t need to be an academic toxicologist to understand that formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide are hardly amongst the compounds that are “good” for you!

SCOTH looked at the situation and concluded that passive smoking can cause eye irritation, headache, cough, sore throat, dizziness and nausea.  Just 30 minutes exposure can be enough to reduce blood flow through the heart.  If your blood supply to the heart is only just sufficient under normal conditions, this could be enough to tip the scales.  More than slightly worrying!  There is also evidence to show that people with asthma can experience a significant decline in lung function when exposed.

The advantage of well based scientific study is that large groups of people can be examined and findings collated.  When large exposed groups show a preponderance of any sign or symptom, compared to a group not exposed, then you can place some credence on the findings.  Here are some of them.  Non-smokers who are exposed to passive smoking in the home have a 25 percent increased risk of heart disease and lung cancer.  Researchers from London’s St. George’s Medical School and the Royal Free hospital have recently found when you include exposure to passive smoking in the workplace and public places the risk of coronary heart disease is increased by 50-60 percent.  A major review in 1998 by SCOTH concluded that passive smoking is a cause of lung cancer and ischemic heart disease in adult non-smokers, and a cause of respiratory disease, cot death, middle ear disease and asthmatic attacks in children.  Children in smoking households have a much higher risk of respiratory problems (72 percent) than those raised in non-smoking households.  The UK Government’s Committee on Carcinogens concluded that environmental tobacco smoke is carcinogenic, and responsible for several hundred deaths a year in the UK.

I do not need further proof.  Do you?