Environmental Tobacco Smoke

Environmental Tobacco Smoke

Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), commonly called secondhand smoke, consists of mainstream smoke, the smoke exhaled by smokers, and sidestream smoke, the smoke that enters the atmosphere from the burning end of the cigarette, cigar, or pipe. Undiluted sidestream smoke is unfiltered by a cigarette filter or a smoker’s lungs, so it contains significantly higher concentrations of toxic and carcinogenic compounds than mainstream smoke.

Nearly 85% of the smoke in a room where someone is smoking is sidestream smoke. Even though such smoke is diffuse, the concentrations can be considerable. In rooms where people are smoking, levels of carbon monoxide, for instance, can exceed those permitted by Federal Air Quality Standards for outside air.

Effects of ETS ETS is a known human carcinogen. ETS causes 3,400 lung cancer deaths and about 46,000 deaths from heart disease each year in people who do not smoke. ETS also contributes to heart disease and aggravates respiratory conditions such as allergies and asthma.

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Scientists have been able to measure changes in the bloodstreams capable of contributing to lung tissue damage and potential tumor promotion of healthy young test subjects who spent three hours in a smoke-filled room. After just 30 minutes of exposure to ETS, the function in the coronary arteries of healthy nonsmokers is reduced to the same level as that of smokers. And nonsmokers can still be affected by the harmful effects of ETS hours after they have left a smoky environment. Carbon monoxide, for example, lingers in the bloodstream for five hours.

Children and ETS Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of ETS. Because they breathe faster than adults, they inhale more air and more of the pollutants it contains. Because they weigh less than adults, children inhale proportionately more pollutants per unit of body weight.

Risk of lung cancer is about 25% of that of continuing smokers

Risks of heart disease and death are close to those of nonsmokers

ETS triggers bronchitis, pneumonia, and other respiratory infections in infants and toddlers up to 18 months old, resulting in as many as 15,000 hospitalizations each year. Older children suffer, too. ETS can induce asthma in children and exacerbate symptoms in children who already have asthma.

Avoiding ETS If you are a nonsmoker, you have the right to breathe clean air, free from tobacco smoke. Try these strategies to keep the air around you safe:

• Speak up tactfully. Try something like, “Would you mind putting your cigarette out or moving to another spot? The smoke is bothering me.”

• Don’t allow smoking in your home or room. Get rid of ashtrays and ask smokers to light up outside.

• Open a window. If you cannot avoid being in a room with smokers, try to provide some ventilation.

• Fight for a smoke-free environment. For your sake and that of others, join with others either to eliminate all smoking indoors or to confine it to certain outdoor areas.

• Research quitting strategies. Social pressure is a major factor in many former smokers’ decision to quit.

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