Although secondhand smoke (SHS) is classified as a carcinogen that is known to cause cancer, not everyone is fully aware of the risks of exposure. This is particularly worrisome with respect to infants and children, who are at highest risk of SHS exposure in the environment that should be the safest for them – the home.
Community education is relevant to increase knowledge about the dangers of SHS and to change attitudes about the health effects of exposure to SHS. If parents, other household members, and visitors to the home can be helped to understand the health risks of SHS to nonsmoking adults and children, they may be prompted to reduce or eliminate smoking indoors, reduce consumption, or quit entirely.
Reducing indoor smoking and increasing cessation would reduce SHS exposure, eventually leading to a reduction in morbidity and mortality. Through community education, nonsmokers may be inspired to create and enforce home smoking bans or restrictions. At least as importantly, they may increase their support and encouragement to household smokers with respect to cessation.
What Is Secondhand Smoke (SHS)?
Secondhand smoke (SHS) is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers. This mixture contains more than 4,000 substances, more than 40 of which are known to cause cancer in humans or animals and many of which are strong irritants. Exposure to secondhand smoke is called involuntary smoking, or passive smoking.
How Does Secondhand Smoke Affect My Health?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified SHS as a Group A (human) carcinogen that is known to cause cancer. EPA estimates that SHS causes approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths in nonsmokers each year.
What About The Risk To Children?
Secondhand smoke is a serious health risk to children:
EPA estimates that passive smoking is responsible for between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in infants and children under 18 months of age annually, resulting in between 7,500 and 15,000 hospitalizations each year.
Children exposed to secondhand smoke are also more likely to have reduced lung function and symptoms of respiratory irritation like cough, excess phlegm, and wheeze.
Passive smoking can lead to buildup of fluid in the middle ear, the most common cause of hospitalization of children for an operation.
Asthmatic children are especially at risk:
EPA estimates that exposure to secondhand smoke increases the number of episodes and severity of symptoms in hundreds of thousands of asthmatic children.
EPA estimates that between 200,000 and 1,000,000 asthmatic children have their condition made worse by exposure to secondhand smoke.
Passive smoking may also cause thousands of non-asthmatic children to develop the condition each year.
What Can I Do To Reduce My Family's Risk From SHS?
Choose not to smoke in your home and car. Do not allow family and visitors, who are especially vulnerable to the health risks, to be exposed to secondhand smoke.
Do not allow childcare providers or others who work in your home to smoke.
Although population-based data show declining secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure in the workplace over time, SHS exposure remains a common public health hazard that is entirely preventable. Most state and local laws on clean indoor air reduce but do not eliminate nonsmokers' exposure to SHS; smoking bans are the most effective method for reducing SHS exposure. Beyond eliminating SHS exposure among nonsmokers, smoking bans have additional benefits, including reduced smoking intensity and potential cost savings to employers. Optimal protection of nonsmokers and smokers requires a smoke-free environment.