Environmental Tobacco Smoke
Secondhand Smoke: It Doesn’t Just Annoy, It Kills!
Do you think that secondhand smoke is annoying but not really harmful? Think again. Secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in Montana. Experts ranging from the US Surgeon General to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have all concluded that secondhand smoke increases the number of deaths from lung cancer and heart disease as well as triggering or exacerbating lung problems like asthma, especially in children. In fact, the EPA has classified secondhand smoke as a Group A Carcinogen—a substance known to cause cancer in humans. There is no safe level of exposure to Group A toxins.
Secondhand Smoke: A Toxic Pollutant
Secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Secondhand smoke is the smoke that curls from the smoldering part of the cigarette as it burns. Also known as “side-stream” smoke, this vapor carries up to 100 times the concentration of some chemicals that are received by smokers as they inhale. Secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals and at least 43 carcinogens, including formaldehyde, cyanide, and arsenic. Smoke filled rooms can have up to six times the air pollution as a busy highway, and the smoke does not clear from the rooms for hours or, in some cases, weeks.
Most exposure to secondhand smoke occurs in the workplace. Recent polls have found overwhelming support for nonsmoking workplaces among residents of Montana.
Kids Are at Greatest Risk
Most people understand that infants born to smoking mothers have lower birth weights and weakened lungs. It is now known that children living with smoking parents have about twice as many respiratory infections, such as bronchitis and croup, as children of nonsmokers. The EPA estimates that an extra 150,000 to 300,000 respiratory infections among children under the age of 18 months are caused by secondhand smoke. In addition, asthma is twice as common in children exposed to high levels of secondhand smoke, and living with smoking parents worsens the disease for children who develop asthma. The EPA estimates that secondhand smoke causes between 8,000 and 26,000 new cases of childhood asthma a year. Secondhand smoke is blamed for 7,500 to 15,000 hospitalizations of infants and children less than 18 months of age every year in the United States.
Cumulative Effects Mean Thousands of Extra Deaths
For every eight smokers who die from tobacco, one nonsmoker dies from secondhand smoke. This adds up to more than 65,000 nonsmokers who die each year.
Despite the tobacco companies’ resistance, federal government agencies and state and local governments have increasingly passed laws prohibiting smoking in public buildings, the workplace, and other public areas. These laws are not intended to restrict the rights of smokers, but to protect public health. Tobacco is responsible for one out of every five deaths in Montana, and the direct medical cost to Montanans is more than $153 million per year. As the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, secondhand smoke is not just a nuisance—it’s a killer!
What Can You Do?
Make sure that relatives and caregivers around infants and children do not smoke.
If you smoke, please stop. You are not only hurting yourself, you are harming others, including your own loved ones, who are most at risk from your secondhand smoke.
If you can’t quit now, smoke outside of your home or car, and avoid smoking in the vicinity of children.
Be courteous. If someone asks you not to smoke, comply with their request. They are only trying to protect their own health.
Educate your family, friends and neighbors about the dangers ofsecondhand smoke.
Do what you can to help prevent young people from smoking. If a child can reach age 18 without smoking, there is a 90% chance he or she will NEVER smoke.
For more information about secondhand smoke and how you can protect yourself and your family from its harmful effects, contact the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Resource Center at 888-254-2484.