Secondhand Smoke - You Have a Voice
Have you ever been walking, jogging, or running and suddenly enter into a cloud of smoke that may cause you to cough, wheeze, or have trouble breathing? If so, you may have just been exposed to secondhand smoke.
Secondhand smoke is also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), and is a combination of the smoke that is exhaled by smokers as well as smoke given off by the burning end of a cigar, pipe, or cigarette. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that secondhand smoke is a mixture of gases and particles that includes more than 7,000 chemicals—hundreds of which are toxic and about 70 that are known to cause cancer. Some examples of these chemicals are hydrogen cyanide (used in chemical weapons), benzene (found in gasoline), and ammonia (found in household cleaners).
Secondhand smoke is very detrimental to everyone’s health. Friends, family members, neighbors, and even pets are all at a higher risk for illness and disease from secondhand smoke. The CDC reports that six people die in PA every day because of secondhand smoke.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, secondhand smoke can increase the risk of heart disease in adults who have never smoked by 25-30%. Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work are 20-30% more likely to have lung cancer.
Secondhand smoke also severely affects children. According to the CDC, secondhand smoke can increase a child’s susceptibility to ear infections and may cause more frequent and severe asthma attacks. Children may also experience coughing, sneezing, and shortness of breath as well as an increased risk of bronchitis and pneumonia.
There are many ways to avoid secondhand smoke exposure. If you choose to smoke, be considerate of those you smoke around. Please do not smoke in the car or in the house, especially if there are other people around. Also, if you decide to smoke in a public place, please find an area where you are not exposing anyone else to secondhand smoke.
If you are a non-smoker, politely ask anyone who is smoking around you not to smoke, or to move to an area where others will not be exposed to their smoke. It would be respectful to provide reasoning to the smoker, such as, secondhand smoke causes your allergies or asthma to flare up, there is a “no smoking” policy where you may currently be, or even you are simply very concerned for your health. Providing your reasoning may also affect how receptive a smoker may be to your request.
Finally, remember that secondhand smoke affects everyone. Whether or not you choose to smoke, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. Remember that you have a choice, and a voice, when it comes to secondhand smoke.
For more information about tobacco use, secondhand smoke, or the Pennsylvania Clean Indoor Air law, contact the Erie County Department of Health at 451-6700 or visit the ECDH website at www.ecdh.org.
Health Education and Public Health Preparedness Intern
Erie County Department of Health