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Smoking and Tobacco

Secondhand Smoke

02/22/1998

Question:

Tell me about second hand smoke.

Answer:

Secondhand smoke is the smoke that a nonsmoker inhales from the burning cigarettes or cigars of smokers. This is also considered passive smoking.

Tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals some of which are toxic or poisonous. Benzene, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide are some examples. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified secondhand smoke as a known human carcinogen (cancer- causing agent).

Secondhand smoke is harmful to infants and children. It increases respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. These children also have more tonsil and adenoid surgery. Secondhand smoke can also aggravate symptoms of asthma and trigger asthma attacks in susceptible children.

Secondhand smoke has been shown to cause lung cancer and heart disease in nonsmokers. A recent study published in the January 14, 1998 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association notes that there is accelerated progression of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) in nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke.

Nuisances of tobacco smoke include a bad odor that clings to people's hair and skin. The smoke also leaves a residue on windows and upholstery that attracts dirt, thus making them more difficult to clean.

For more information:

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Response by:

Margaret C Sweeney, MD
Formerly, Associate Professor of Clinical Family Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati