Hazards of passive smoking

  • By Dr. Shalini Kapoor

All smokers are aware that Nicotine is harmful to health and that they should not be smoking. However, an addiction to smoking is something very few can let go of. Apart from the active smokers, who run a high risk of getting cancers of the lung and mouth and also are more susceptible to heart diseases, the people who are in close proximity to them, also have an equal chance of getting the same diseases. This is because passive smoking is just as dangerous as active smoking and the partners and children of smokers are generally the innocent sufferers. Passive smoking increases your vulnerability to different diseases such as lung cancer, coronary heart diseases, respiratory illnesses, middle ear disease, asthma and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), also known as cot death.

What exactly is Passive Smoking?

When you breathe in the tobacco smoke exhaled by other people, it is known as passive smoking. There are different ways in which you can be exposed to passive smoking.

Smoke inhaled and then exhaled by the smoker is called ‘mainstream’ smoke, while smoke that wafts off from the end of a lit cigarette, cigar or pipe, is called as ‘side-stream’ smoke. The combination of side-stream and mainstream smoke is known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) or second-hand smoke.

Second-hand smoke is quite common in households where the inhabitants are regular smokers. Due to regular smoking, the air indoors is polluted and this can be a serious threat to the family; women, particularly pregnant women and children.

Passive smoking is as injurious to health as active smoking. In the year 2004-05, more than 28 infants and 113 adults died because of diseases caused by passive smoking.

Hazards to Pregnant Women

Passive smoking poses a huge threat to the well-being of pregnant women and their unborn babies. According to statistics from Australia, 12 percent of pregnant women exposed to passive smoking, gave birth to fetuses suffering from serious growth problems. Some of the risks of passive smoking for pregnant women include:

  1. Stillbirths and miscarriages
  2. Premature births, low weight of the baby at birth
  3. SIDS and fatal accidents in sleep
  4. Complications at the time of birth

A pregnant woman, who has been exposed to passive smoking, is at a greater risk of giving birth to a baby with lower than normal weight. That is why doctors advise both the mother and the father to avoid smoking during pregnancy and this includes passive smoking.

Hazards to Children

  1. Passive smoking easily affects children. Some such health threats that result from this, are as under:
  2. A child exposed to passive smoking for the first one and half years of his life, runs an increased risk of developing various respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, bronchitis and bronchiolitis.
  3. They are more vulnerable to coughs, colds, and middle ear infections or glue ear. The lungs of such children show a reduction in the functioning ability and their growth is also much slower.
  4. Children exposed to passive smoking at a tender age are more likely to get asthma and other related symptoms such as breathlessness, cough, wheeze and phlegm.
  5. Many children also develop Meningococcal disease due to passive smoking, which can be fatal or may cause permanent disability.

Apart from kids and pregnant women, the partners of smokers also run a huge risk of developing different health problems such as heart diseases, stroked, blood pressure related ailments, atherosclerosis, lung cancer, throat cancer, sinus cancer, nasal cancer, short and long-term respiratory problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and many more.