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Smoking and Tobacco

How dangerous is second-hand smoke?




Second hand or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is a concern for persons who are exposed to this in their daily lives. This is also called passive smoking. It is the sidestream smoke from smoldering cigarettes and cigars and the portion of smoke that the smoker exhales.

Studies of large groups of people have identified an association between secondhand smoke or ETS and a number of health effects including lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. Most of this work has been exposure to another smoker in the home - such as a spouse. There are also some indications that if a person is exposed to more smoke for longer periods of time, they are more likely to have health problems than those with less exposure.

In a recent study reported in Tobacco Control journal, ETS increased a nonsmoker`s risk of stroke by up to 82%. The U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has printed a document summarizing the respiratory health effects of passive smoking. They classified ETS as a group A carcinogen - or a compound that has been shown to cause cancer in people. ETS also increases the risks in young children of lower respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia. It also increases the occurrence of middle ear infections in children and the frequency and seriousness of asthma problems in children with asthma.

Strategies to prevent exposure to environmental tobacco smoke depends on the location. If it is in one`s home, this can be discussed with the smoker in an effort to make the home a smoke-free environment. If it is in public places, such as restaurants, one can locate the local clean indoor air ordinances on smoking policies in restaurants or public and commercial buildings. One can work with local boards to begin to change policies and reduce ETS exposure in these settings. There may be a local Group Against Smoking Pollution (GASP) in your area. In some states they issue a listing of smoke-free restaurants, for example.

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Response by:

Karen L Ahijevych, PhD, RN, FAAN Karen L Ahijevych, PhD, RN, FAAN
Professor Emeritus
College of Public Health
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University