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Drugs & Health Blog

Secondhand Smoke: You’re Exposed to More Than You Think

Sara Bellum

Many of us don’t realize how much secondhand smoke we inhale each day. We tend to forget about the person smoking outside a restaurant or sitting on a park bench. People’s smoking in the apartment next door affects us as well.

While these encounters with secondhand smoke seem harmless, they can mean a lot to your health.

  • Secondhand smoke contains many of the same chemicals as inhaled smoke.
  • According to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, effects of secondhand smoke kill 42,000 Americans each year, including nearly 900 infants.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in a healthy nonsmoker.
  • Another recent study found that people exposed to secondhand smoke have higher rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

To figure out your level of secondhand smoke exposure, doctors can measure the amount of cotinine in your blood, saliva, or urine. Cotinine is the chemical created by the body when nicotine is metabolized. Measuring cotinine levels is more accurate than relying on people to remember how much exposure they have to smoking.

Newer research shows that even exposure to third-hand smoke—the chemicals from smoking that remain on surfaces and in dust—can be detrimental.

How can you avoid secondhand smoke?

  • Politely ask people not to smoke around you.
  • Don’t allow smoking in your home or car.
  • Encourage people to use designated smoking areas that are far away from building entrances and crowded areas.
  • Encourage friends and family members who want to quit smoking.

Are you worried about being exposed to more smoke than you thought? What can you do to reduce your exposure?

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.

Comments

Great information and very informative. I have parents in my private practice that still smoke inside their homes with their children. It blows my mind that in 2013 parents are still unable to see the harmful effects. Therapist, educators and advocates please bond together to help bring awareness to the harmful effects of second hand smoke. If you need help understanding in more detail seek an addiction therapist for further assitance.
Great information and very informative. I have parents in my private practice that still smoke inside their homes with their children. It blows my mind that in 2013 parents are still unable to see the harmful effects. Therapist, educators and advocates please bond together to help bring awareness to the harmful effects of second hand smoke. If you need help understanding in more detail seek an addiction therapist for further assitance.
Sally, I believe most people are able to "see" its harmful effects, and your appraisal seems to be unrealistically impractical. The view that holds that people continue to smoke even when they are "unable to see the harmful effects" is an absurd piece of hyperbole. Most people do see it, however marginal or widespread their habit may be, but merely refuse to quit because either they are so addicted that quitting the habit represents too great a length or mere obstinacy, or both. However, it has been my experience in recent years--as you so concisely expressed--that the greater part of smokers are truly unaware of the results thereof, and bringing awareness may help to quell the ever-present malevolence that smoking so obviously causes.... or not.
How long does it take for a poison dart frog to kill a person?

That's an interesting question.  At NIDA, we experts in drugs and drug abuse.  Unfortunately, we don't know much about animals.  You should try National Geographic or the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park website. Good luck and let us know what you find out.  

Well, I'm going to make a few rude noises here. I am now 64, and I smoked for about seventeen years, starting when I was 40. When you actually smoke cigarettes, inhaling the smoke directly into your lungs, you don't experience any noticeable harms to your health for at least the first ten years. Swear to God. I could run five miles in fifty minutes when I was 50, and smoke all the way. Now of course prolonged smoking does terrible damage and can cause you to die early in an excruciatingly painful way, but I find it impossible to believe that inhaling the diluted smoke exhaled by someone smoking near you could really harm you. That just can't be, unless you already have a serious lung disease like asthma. My wife still smokes, and I sit in the same room with her and her chimney pals, and it just never crosses my mind in any serious way that their smoke is going to hurt me. I smoked myself without any harms. Also, I do like the smell of cigarette smoke, so I don't suffer from the severe discomfort that so many antismokers have with that aspect of smoking. I have little patience with people who have themselves never smoked and who don't have any friends who do telling anyone else that they can't smoke. Believe me, being on the receiving end of that little movement to improve the world really bit. I quit smoking because, here in Canada, it just became too expensive. Did smoking harm my health? It doesn't seem so so far, although certainly I have heard of cases of people who had quit smoking and then, years later, developed respiratory diseases. But that's my testimony.

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