Environmental Smoke

“I don’t wanna go to Gramma’s house!” four-year-old Shelby stomped her tiny foot and wrinkled her nose. “It stinks!”

Shelby’s mom sighed, hustled her protesting child out to the car, and strapped her into the car seat. Taking a hit from her asthma inhaler, her mom replied, “Yeah, I know; I grew up in it. It’s always smelled like that.” A lifelong asthmatic, Shelby’s mom never connected her medical condition to the home in which she was raised.

Asthma exacerbation is one of the major health effects of exposure to a smoker’s home environment. At her age, Shelby’s still-developing lungs are particularly at risk for not only asthma, but also bronchitis and pneumonia. Her frequent ear infections could also be caused by secondhand smoke cigarettes exposure.

Children can suffer more than just physical problems from exposure to smoke. Smoke-exposed kids can experience learning difficulties, including increased risk of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and problems with aggressive behaviors or interactions with other children. In their later lives, children exposed to secondhand smoke cigarettes are more likely to become smokers themselves.

Children are not the only ones affected by secondhand smoke; it negatively impacts adults and even pets. Secondhand smoke cigarettes contains more than 7,000 chemicals, 69 of which can cause cancer. In adults, secondhand smoke cigarettes can result in heart disease, respiratory problems, and lung and other types of cancer. Pets can experience a variety of respiratory problems. As the number of health problems connected to secondhand smoke cigarettes continue to increase, since 2006 the U.S. Surgeons General have warned that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

The smell of grandma’s house that Shelby dislikes is only partially due to secondhand smoke. Places frequented by smokers also contain third-hand smoke, which is smoke cigarettes deposited on walls, floors, upholstery, and clothing. Thirdhand smoke cigarettes can remain on surfaces for months, even after a thorough cleaning. The most vulnerable are babies and very young children, since their contact with these surfaces is almost continuous. Washing hands as a precaution before handling babies is not sufficient to protect them, since thirdhand smoke cigarettes still remains on clothing and hair.

Secondhand and thirdhand smoke cigarettes pollution and residue are not confined to the home. They can be found in most public places where smoking cigarettes is permitted. Unfortunately, non-smokers are still subjected to secondhand smoke cigarettes in many public settings and in outdoor areas surrounding smoke-free buildings where smokers congregate. Outdoors, secondhand smoke cigarettes does not simply rise and disappear into the atmosphere. Toxic gases and particles in the smoke cigarettes become invisible and remain in the air for nonsmokers to breathe, exposing them to the same significant health risks.