What is Second Hand Smoke?

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  • Written By: Garry Crystal
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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Second hand smoke is the exposure of non-smokers to cigarette smoke from people who are smoking around them. It is estimated that over 300 people die from lung cancer each year due to its effects. Second hand smoke is even more dangerous than smoking directly. Smoking releases 4,000 chemicals into the air, the same amount that a person receives from inhaling directly, but as there may be more than one person smoking, this smoke can include a greater quantity of these chemicals.

When a smoker burns a cigarette, he usually only inhales for around 30 seconds total, but the cigarette burns for approximately 10 minutes. The non-smoker is therefore also exposed to the cigarette smoke and chemicals for this length of time. Approximately 50 of the chemicals that are in the smoke are carcinogens, and it is these that cause cancer.

Figures show that second hand smoke contains two times the amount of tar in inhaled smoke. This is because the smoke in the air burns more slowly. It also contains five times the amount of carbon monoxide, which causes a reduction in the amount of oxygen in the blood.

In addition to death, inhaling second hand smoke has many short-term effects. These include coughing and a sore throat, headaches, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate and eye irritation. Smoke also contributes to a higher risk of heart disease and asthma.


The long-term effects of inhaling second hand smoke include strokes and heart disease. It also causes lung cancer and other related cancers, and it reduces the ability of the body to take in oxygen. Children who are subjected to cigarette smoke have a high risk of developing asthma and will likely suffer from other breathing difficulties.

Many countries around the world have banned smoking in all public enclosed spaces to counteract these health risks. Restaurants, bars and nightclubs prohibit smoking on their premises in countries such as Scotland and Ireland, with England following in 2007. In the United States, New York has been smoke free in public places since 2005.

As well as benefits to public health, these bans also have a financial benefit. There are many long-term medical costs associated with smoking and its effects to second hand smoke sufferers. There are also many indirect costs, such as higher insurance premiums, decreased productivity and increased absenteeism. The smoking ban has also made the atmosphere more environmentally friendly, although until car exhaust fumes are also banned, people will never be entirely environmentally clear.


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Post 4

@Bhutan - I agree. I recently heard that second hand smoke risks include the potential for developing breast cancer and heart disease. I was even reading that according to the American Cancer Society, about three quarter of American children develop a middle ear infection which could be directly traced to second hand smoke.

Second hand smoke regarding children is really scary. They are more prone to developing sudden infant death syndrome and developing asthma due to reduced lung capacity.

I always tell my kids how bad smoking is and how it can make your lungs black. They are always surprised when they do see someone smoking because they don’t understand how someone could continue to smoke knowing how bad it is for them.

I think that second hand smoke risks are very real and I am glad that more aggressive laws are on the books to reduce public smoking.

Post 3

@Cafe41-I know what are you are saying but in a building you can smell the smoke in the hallway. I have a condo and there are a few smokers on my floor and you can smell the smoke in the hallways because the smoke seeps underneath the door and into the hallway.

The last thing that I want to smell is an ashtray when I get home so I can see this condo board’s point. I can also see how It can be a fire hazard especially if someone either falls asleep with a cigarette or puts it out incorrectly.

So I think that there are two sides to the story. The statistics on second hand smoke are

very clear and no one wants to get sick because of actions of others. I think that smoker’s rights end when they impact other people’s lives. There are too many facts about second hand smoke for people to continue to look the other way.
Post 2

@Latte31 - I hate secondhand smoke. But I recently heard of a case in which a condo board was banning smoking in the individual apartments. I don’t know how legal that is because although I am not a smoker and will never be, I don’t know how you can prohibit someone from smoking in their own home.

It is different if you are smoking in public and the second hand cigarette smoke comes in contact with other people and bothers them, but in your own home?

I think that people that are addicted to nicotine should try chewing gums that are laced with nicotine that way they get to enjoy their nicotine but not at the expense of anyone else.

Post 1

I try to stay away from secondhand smoke whenever I can. I have read about the facts regarding second hand smoke and it scares me.

They say that about 50,000 people die every year from complications due to second hand smoke. I had a friend who developed asthma because both of his parents smoked when he was a child.

It also affected his sense of smell because he can no longer differentiate between scents. I think that the second hand smoke risks are so great that a lot of tougher laws have originated because of it.

I am glad that smoking is no longer allowed in restaurants. I also wished that it was also barred from theme parks where children frequent. It is difficult to walk by people smoking without getting a whiff of the smoke.

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