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Second hand smoke

The idea that habits that adversely affect a person’s health are his own business is deeply flawed. That is why preventive medicine, despairing of the results of educational work in the fight against unhealthy habits, is increasingly turning to administrative measures. In recent years, there has been more and more evidence that the so-called passive or forced smoking ( inhalation of air polluted with tobacco smoke ) contributes to the development of diseases characteristic of smokers in non-smokers. Environmental pollution by smokers is very significant.

Harm and impact of passive smoking

Passive smoking refers to the unintentional, in most cases unwanted inhalation of air that contains smoke from the combustion of tobacco. There are those who believe that passive smoking is not harmful or more harmful than life in a metropolis, and the harm of second-hand smoke is nothing more than a myth.

However, medical and social facts tell a different story: the harmful effects on the health of others from passive smoking is not just great, but huge.

Passive smoking is dangerous in itself, but the risks associated with it increase:

  • when indoors:
  • in the case of regular, prolonged inhalation of tobacco smoke;
  • if passive smokers are children and pregnant women.

Cigarette smoke is unpleasant to smell, it is absorbed into the skin, hair and clothes of non-smokers, but most importantly it contains the same dangerous substances that poison and slowly kill the smoker’s body, and some of these substances are contained in smoke in quantities much greater than than the smoke inhaled by the smoker.

Passive smoking has a negative, dangerous effect on all organs and systems, and there is only one way to prevent this effect: to remove the source of danger from the environment.

Respiratory organs and lungs

Tobacco smoke irritates the upper respiratory tract. Allergic rhinitis, dry nose, sore throat, sneezing due to mucosal irritation are just a small, superficial part of the problems. Constant irritation of the nasal mucosa leads to the formation of vasomotor rhinitis – a far from harmless condition, manifested first by a chronic runny nose, and then by asthma.

Not many people know that nasal breathing problems are directly related to ear diseases. Swollen or vice versa, excessively dry nasal mucosa leads to tubo -otitis ( eustacheitis ) with its very unpleasant symptoms: gurgling in the ear, frequent otitis media, hearing loss, autophony (when one’s own voice is given very loudly, with a barrel tone).

Asthma in general “loves” passive smokers – they develop it five times more often than those who are lucky not to encounter cigarette smoke.

Finally, chronic irritation of lung tissues leads to metaplasia of the mucous membrane, its growth. In turn, the swollen mucosa pulls along a pathological chain leading to COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Nervous system and brain

The nervous system with passive smoking suffers no less than with regular smoking. The simplest thing is the mental irritation of a passive smoker, his nervousness: after all, he is fully aware of the danger, the uselessness of constant inhalation of smoke, and often cannot do anything about it.

Naturally, nicotine (the content of which in the air around the smoker may exceed the amount of nicotine inhaled by him) has its effect on the central nervous system. This is a neurotoxic, psychostimulating, stimulating release of neurotransmitters action.

It makes itself felt in a variety of manifestations: insomnia, drowsiness, agitation, mood lability, decreased appetite, changes in taste sensations, nausea, weakness, dizziness and many others.

circulatory system, heart

Substances contained in cigarette smoke cause vascular disorders: violations of vascular tone, cardiac arrhythmias (tachycardia, arrhythmias), ischemia.

Chronic exposure to nicotine as a vascular toxin leads to coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, hypertension, angina pectoris, strokes and heart attacks. Both smokers and passive smokers around them suffer from endarteritis obliterans, a serious disease that eventually leads to gangrene of the lower extremities.

A variety of studies on the effect of passive smoking on blood vessels have shown that chronic smoking increases the risk of stroke by 42%. And, like in smokers, the treatment of this and any other pathologies is seriously hampered by chronic nicotine intoxication.


The irritating effect of smoke is well known, its components dry the mucous membrane of the eye, force a person to blink more often, cause lacrimation, lead to vasoconstriction and, as a result, to a violation of the corneal trophism.

Cigarette smoke is a strong allergen, and it is one of the causes of allergic conjunctivitis: sometimes it develops as a separate disease, sometimes it occurs simultaneously with allergic rhinitis.

reproductive system

Passive smoking has a powerful effect on the reproductive system, in particular in women – the wives of smokers smoking at home – the menstrual cycle becomes shorter than in non-smoking couples. This can cause a decrease in the ability to conceive.

Previously, ovarian failure is typical in women who smoke, but a large body of evidence suggests that ovarogenic syndrome is not an uncommon finding in secondhand smokers.

Little is known about the effects of passive smoking on the reproductive system of men, but it is assumed that the activity of spermatozoa, their number may be affected by secondhand smoke, since in this case nicotine is also inhaled, which affects sperm counts.

General risks

Researchers of the problem of passive smoking have identified groups of pathologies, the risk of which increases with passive smoking. First of all, these are oncopathologies , in particular lung cancer.

Studies conducted in the US, UK, Australia, Germany and showed that the risk of lung cancer in passive smokers is increased, according to rough estimates, by 30% compared to non-smokers.

More than 70% increased risk of breast cancer, 10 – 15% – kidney cancer – also the result of passive smoking.

Retrospective estimates and studies in the UK have shown that passive smoking increases the risk of death from coronary heart disease by 50-60%, and is responsible for 2,700 deaths per year in people aged 20 to 65 years, and another 8,000 deaths per year. year among people aged 65 and over.

Hearing loss, asthma, memory and thinking disorders (especially over the age of 50), skin deterioration develop under the influence of passive smoking.

Passive smoking during pregnancy

Whether to smoke while carrying a child is, by and large, up to the woman herself. And she is also responsible if the child develops complications associated with smoking. But when a pregnant woman is forced to inhale the smoke of cigarettes of smoking households, this can already be regarded as a deliberate harm to her and the child.

Passive smoking during pregnancy causes such pathological conditions as:

  • high risk of preterm birth;
  • decrease in Apgar scores ;
  • low weight of the fetus and child at birth, which may lead to a lag in physical and mental development, require the organization of additional care;
  • reduction in the circumference of the head and chest of the newborn;
  • increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome;
  • atopic dermatitis in a child.

Passive smoking in children

If adults can still somehow stand up for themselves, then many people allow themselves to smoke with impunity in the presence of children. Many smokers even have a formal act of “conscience reassurance” – wave your hand, dispersing the smoke, when a child approaches the smoker. It makes zero sense, of course. But there is a lot of harm from passive children’s smoking.

Some statistics according to foreign sources. Every year in the United States, an average of 200,000 children under the age of 18 months from families of smokers (where either both or one of the parents smoke at home) receive treatment for pneumonia and bronchitis. Approximately 7% of these children require hospitalization.

This harm is not instantaneous, it accumulates gradually, and if a baby is born in the family of a smoker (or smokers), then by the time of birth he has a “bouquet” of non-compliance with the norms for newborns.

This may be a cooling in physical development – and it entails difficulties with mental development, so everything is interconnected at an early age. Decreased immunity is also typical of passive smokers, and this has not only current, but also long-term consequences.

The scourge of modern babies is various allergic diseases, most often dermatitis. It has been established that maternal smoking during pregnancy and / or passive smoking of a pregnant woman, and then a child, are one of the provocateurs of this condition.

Breastfeeding in a smoky room is the introduction to the child of a huge amount of toxic substances by inhalation and transesophageal method, which can cause either depression of the nervous system (and the parents are happy – the baby is sleeping), or its excitation – followed by parental anger at the ever-screaming baby. And these are simply the symptoms of his poisoning, which do not go away, but accumulate, giving out a huge range of problems in school and adolescence.

Children of smokers are more likely to get sick – according to various estimates, the incidence of respiratory infections is 8-13 times higher in them compared to children of non-smoking parents. And these are not small numbers, considering that in the UK alone, approximately 5 million children live in conditions of passive smoking (this is slightly more than a third of all children in the UK).

Neurological problems of passive smokers of childhood are not so easy to discern: they fit into educational problems in general. However, it has long been noticed and confirmed by research that children who are forced to breathe cigarette smoke do worse in an educational institution, have difficulty falling asleep, memory, and adaptation in a team due to increased excitability and nervousness.

Passive smoking hookah

Is there such a thing as passive smoking of a hookah at all – after all, the volume of smoke that enters the air when smoking nargile is not so large? Practice has shown that yes, this problem is real, tangible. There are fewer toxic and poisonous substances in hookah smoke than in cigarette smoke (if only because of the lower combustion temperature), and this smoke is not as dense as when smoking.

But the peculiarity of the hookah culture is such that passive smokers voluntarily or involuntarily are in close proximity to the smoker and, as a rule, do not have the opportunity to move away from him: they usually smoke hookah not on the street, but in a cafe or at home, and smoke for a long time. It has been estimated that with passive smoking from a hookah, others inhale from 11% to 59% of the harmful combustion products of hookah tobacco.

The larger the room, the greater the influx of fresh air into it, the lower the harm of passive hookah smoking. On the contrary, in the cramped premises of a cafe where several people smoke at once, the harm is maximum, and can be equated to the harm from passive smoking of cigarettes.

Is passive smoking more harmful than active smoking?

There are several reasons to believe that second-hand smoking (this term is common in the West along with the term passive smoking) is more harmful than ordinary smoking.

In fairness, it must be said that research on this issue is still ongoing, statistics are being collected and processed, not only health professionals, but tobacco companies are concerned about this issue (although they have different reasons for concern).

When the cigarette ends, the intake of harmful substances into the body of the person who smoked it also stops. The smoke remains in the air for some time, that is, it continues to exert its influence.

Smoke and its harmful components settle on hair, clothes, furniture, furnishings. You can forget about these little things when passive smoking is just a single episode in a long time. But if people smoke constantly in a house or office, then the value of harm from settled combustion products increases significantly. It has been calculated that secondhand smoke is more toxic than staying for 30 minutes near a running diesel engine.

The body of smokers is adapted to smoking – in any case, for several years the cells of the body withstand the onslaught of nicotine and smoke components precisely due to the adaptive and compensatory capabilities of the body. But the body of passive smokers is less “trained” , therefore, it reacts more painfully to harmful components.

At the same time, the so-called “side” smoke, that is, the one that is exhaled after a puff and released during the combustion of a cigarette, contains about 4000 different components. Among them, carbon monoxide and dioxide, polycyclic hydrocarbons, nitrosamines , ammonia, phenol, polonium, cyanides and others, of which 69 substances have proven carcinogenic activity.

In side (secondary) smoke, the concentration of many substances exceeds that in inhaled smoke: for example, it contains 50 times more nicotine, 45 times more nitrogen compounds, including ammonia

More information about the composition of cigarette smoke can be found in this table:

ComponentsInhaled dose, mg
active smoker (1 cigarette)passive smoker (1 hour)
Carbon monoxide18.49.2
Nitrogen oxide0.30.2
Solid and liquid substances25.32.3

And, finally, it is unfair: to poison people for the sake of one’s own habit. The smoker chose the path of chronic intoxication for himself. So why should those around him share this painful and dangerous addiction?

The question is, relatively little research has been done on this topic. And to state unequivocally that passive smoking is more harmful than active smoking is incorrect .

If you have additional information on this issue, please share it in the comments to the article, or in the discussion of the topic on the forum. Thank you.

How to protect yourself (avoid) from passive smoking

The radical and, perhaps, the most correct method of solving all the problems associated with passive smoking is to stop smoking.

But if a person follows his own weakness and does not want to quit smoking (and also refuses to accept arguments about the dangers of passive smoking for his relatives and others), then you can try to mitigate the danger of passive smoking – for the sake of your own health.

At home

In the place of smoking (at home it is usually a kitchen and a bathroom), install additional ventilation devices – in the shaft, in the window, on the kitchen hood.

Ventilate and carry out wet cleaning more often, not only floors, but also all surfaces of furniture and household items.

In the office

Require compliance with the law on the ban on smoking in public places. Team up with non-smokers (or conscientious smokers) colleagues and secure smoking areas equipped in accordance with this law.

Ventilate office space more often, carry out wet cleaning of the workplace (ordinary wet wipes are perfect – they can be used to wipe the table, the surface of furniture and equipment at any time).

Limiting secondhand smoke in children

Prohibit family members from smoking in rooms close to the children’s room, and even more so in the presence of children. Stay away from your child for at least 10 minutes after the last cigarette you smoked.

Wet cleaning with soap solutions (a few drops of shampoo, liquid soap, baby laundry detergent or floor cleaner) – water alone does a poor job of removing tobacco soot.

Ventilate the entire apartment at least 4 times a day for 15 – 30 minutes, depending on the season.

Since October 2011, St. Francis Hospital in Alexandria, Louisiana, the children’s ward, has banned employees whose clothing smells of tobacco smoke from working to prevent exposure to secondhand smoke in children. This ban is connected with the fact that settled tobacco smoke poses a particular danger to infants and young children.

In public places

Avoid places where smokers gather (smoking areas, corners of houses, etc.).

Choose catering establishments that have non-smoking rooms.

After staying in a smoky place, change clothes, take a shower with a thorough washing of your hair.


The numbers are dry. But sometimes they can say more than a hundred words. Here are just a few statistical facts.

In the US, more than 126 million non-smokers are exposed to secondhand smoke.

Of these, 50,000 people die each year from tobacco-related illnesses. Of this number, 3,000 died from lung diseases (most often cancer and emphysema).

More than 60% of American children live in conditions of chronic passive smoking.

More than 40% of children who come to the emergency services for asthma are passive smokers.

In the United States, more than $10 billion a year is spent on additional medical care, treatment, and diagnosis of diseases associated with passive smoking.

The UK Health Authority estimated that in 2011 more than 300,000 children who were passive smokers went to medical facilities and 9,500 of them were hospitalized.

In Australia in 2005, it was estimated that 113 adults and 28 children died from diseases caused by secondhand smoke in the home.

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