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Passive Smoking

Passive smoking is breathing in other people's tobacco smoke. Passive smoking can also be referred to as environmental, involuntary or second hand smoking.

Less than 3 out of 10 adults smoke, but nearly everyone is at times a passive smoker. Most non-smokers prefer not to be in a smoke filled room, it bothers them or causes them to suffer from irritation to the nose, throat, eyes, or leads to coughs, nausea, dizziness or headaches. Passive smoking is a health risk. The smell of tobacco smoke clings to clothes, hair and furnishing.

Environmental tobacco smoke

A burning cigarette is like a mini chemical factory. The smoke from it contains thousands of toxic chemicals and many of these are known to cause cancer. Most of the smoke from the end of a burning cigarette goes into the air and this is known as sidestream smoke, where as smoke breathed in by the smoker is called mainstream smoke.

Environmental tobacco smoke is the mix of 85% of exhaled sidestream smoke and 15% of exhaled mainstream smoke. Environmental tobacco smoke is more or less diluted in the air depending on the size and ventilation of the room and the distance between the smoker and the passive smoker.

The effects of passive smoking on children

Passive smoking can cause severe breathing problems for babies and children as their lungs are more delicate.

Coughs, phlegm, wheezing, and chronic chest infections (pneumonia and bronchitis) are much more common in children who are exposed to passive smoking.

Glue ear, the most common cause of deafness and surgery in childhood is also related to passive smoking.

Childhood asthma is more common and asthma attacks are twice as likely and more severe for children who are exposed to regular tobacco smoke. Every year up to 120,000 visits to the doctor for asthma are attributed to passive smoking.

Early chest infections can cause long term reduction of lung function and bronchitis and emphysema later in life. It is estimated that in the UK 17,000 children under 5 are hospitalised each year for chest infections related to their parent's smoking. The more cigarettes smoked by parents around a child the more likely the child is to suffer ill health.

The effects of passive smoking on adults

The effects of passive smoking on the lungs and breathing of adults is not as severe as in children. However, passive smoking does reduce lung function and can increase coughing, phlegm and sore throats.

Adults with asthma can experience a significant decline in lung function when exposed to passive smoking. There are 3.5 million people with asthma in the UK and environmental tobacco smoke causes difficulties for up to 80% of them.

Lung cancer

In the last 10 years, 7 major reports have concluded that passive smoking is a cause of lung cancer. Although the risks from passive smoking are lower than from active smoking, there are no safe levels of the cancer causing chemicals in tobacco smoke. Passive smoking increases the risk of lung cancer by approximately 30%. The risk of cancer due to passive smoking is higher for those working or living with smokers.

Heart disease and vascular diseases

Passive smoking increases the risk of heart disease and disease of the blood vessels by between 20% and 30% for a non-smoker exposed to regular environmental tobacco smoke. Passive smoking can increase the risk of strokes by up to 82%.

For mothers who smoke, their babies are far more likely to suffer from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Cot death). The risk is tripled for mothers who smoke during their pregnancy and doubled for babies exposed to tobacco smoke after birth. The effects of passive smoking are most serious among babies born to mothers who smoke in pregnancy. Babies are on average 200g smaller.There is slower physical and intellectual development of the child. Miscarriage is increased by about a quarter. Early labour is twice as common.Stillbirths is increased by about one third
There is evidence that some of these effects may occur if non-smoking pregnant women are exposed to passive smoking from their partners or others. (Source: )


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