The definition of the term second-hand smoke has remained difficult, both medically and legally.
For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call second-hand smoke the smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar or pipe. It is also the smoke that smokers exhale.
Another similar but somewhat different entity is third-hand smoke. This includes invisible tobacco “dust” that settles in the environment and can linger even after the cigarette has been put out. The problem with third-hand smoke is that it can stay on toys, clothes, rugs and other surfaces at home.
It is generally agreed that even the smoke that is exhaled has chemicals in it that can cause irritation and injury to the lungs, eyes, throat and other organs. Some of these chemicals are known to cause increased risk of cancers and other health conditions. Studies have shown that these chemicals include tar, nicotine, cyanide, arsenic, ammonia, methane and other cancer-causing agents.
It is also known that smoke from the burning end of a cigarette has more toxins than the smoke inhaled by the smoker. Even third-hand smoke is known to contain 250 chemicals.
Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at higher risk for asthma, ear problems, lung-related infections and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Pets also are at increased risk because the smoke and tobacco dust can stay on their fur or feathers.
Although smoking is bad for everyone, including adults, we should make special efforts to avoid smoking around children. It is important to smoke away from children and from areas where they play. Opening windows is not enough. Be sure to ask people in your household, or people who visit your home, not to smoke in your home. Educate your family members and friends about the ill effects of smoking on children’s health.
In choosing a day care center, prefer one that doesn’t allow smoking on premises and that doesn’t allow staff to smoke at all. Although adults may not be initially be receptive to the idea of quitting, keep trying. After all, it’s not just the smokers who are at risk — it’s the people around them who are also at risk for damage related to cigarette smoking.
If you need assistance to quit smoking, it is a good idea for you to talk to your physician.
Smoking cessation programs can be found locally, such as at local health departments. Online resources are available as well as by calling 1-800-784-8669 (QUITNOW).
Dr. Muhammad Iqbal is a pulmonologist with Baptist Health Medical Group Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine in Richmond, practices at Baptist Health Richmond.