The harmful effects of second-hand smoke


Cigarette smoke in the air around you, also familiarly known as second-hand smoke, is more toxic than the smoke inhaled by smokers. Find out more about its harmful effects and how to limit your and loved ones’ exposure to it.

Les méfaits de la fumée secondaire

What is second-hand smoke?

If you’re a smoker, you know how unpleasant your cigarette smoke can be to people around you – you may even be tired of hearing about it. Nevertheless, please know that the problems associated with cigarette smoke go way beyond its unpleasant smell.

Secondary or second-hand smoke is the cigarette smoke that is released into the air when someone smokes. It is made up of the smoke exhaled by the smoker and smoke released directly by cigarettes.

There are more than 4,000 chemical products in second-hand smoke, including 50 that can cause cancer. In addition, some carcinogenic (cancer-causing) products are found in greater quantities in second-hand smoke than in the smoke inhaled by smokers. This is also the case for pipe and cigar smoke. There is twice as much nicotine and tar in second-hand smoke than in the smoke inhaled by smokers.

Cigarette smoke can remain in a room for several hours. No ventilation or air-filtration system is effective enough to evacuate all cigarette smoke from a building. Opening a window, smoking under the range hood fan or smoking in a closed room are not effective solutions either. The only way to prevent second-hand smoke is not to smoke indoors.

The toxic chemical products found in cigarette smoke can remain in the air long after you stub out your cigarette. They settle on walls, in fabrics, on carpets, furniture, and toys.

Anyone in proximity to these objects filled with smoke may experience the effects of second-hand smoke (or passive smoking) even if no cigarette is lit. If you’re in a room or vehicle where people usually smoke, you are exposed to second-hand smoke, even if no one is smoking in your presence.

Health risks of second-hand smoke

The negative health effects of second-hand have been known for a long time. Even slight exposure can lead to serious consequences – that is why it is so important to limit everyone’s exposure to second-hand smoke.

Children are particularly affected since they breathe at a more rapid rate and their immune system is more vulnerable. Children exposed to cigarette smoke develop more cases of otitis, tonsillitis, asthma, and other respiratory problems. Seniors, pregnant women and people with cardiac or respiratory problems are also at greater risk whenever they are exposed to second-hand smoke.

Second-hand smoke irritates the throat, nose, and eyes of people who are exposed to it. It can also cause headaches, coughing, and nausea as well as increase the risk of developing asthma, lung infections, and even lung cancer. It can bring about cardiovascular problems and damage the reproduction system by reducing fertility. Second-hand is also a risk factor for breast cancer, especially when exposure occurs prior to menopause.

Practical advice

The best way to help build a smoke-free world is to stop smoking. If you smoke and would like to quit, speak to your pharmacist for advice. If you are not ready to stop smoking yet, here is some advice that will allow you to limit exposure to your second-hand smoke:

  • As much as possible, don’t smoke in the house or in the car
  • Never smoke in the presence of children, seniors, and people who are ill
  • Just because smoking is permitted in certain places, it does not mean that you have to light up. For example, if you’re enjoying summer weather on a terrace somewhere, be courteous and abstain from smoking. If you light up, you will certainly inconvenience people around you
  • Even if it bothers you, please respect other people’s desire not to be exposed to second-hand smoke

If you’re a parent or if there are children in your entourage, keep in mind that children are less likely to become smokers if you abstain from smoking in their presence – or, even better, if you quit smoking for good!

The choice to smoke or not to smoke is yours. However, people who don’t smoke shouldn’t have to bear the consequences of second-hand smoke. Your family and friends will be grateful for the efforts you make to limit their exposure to your cigarette smoke.

Read more on the subject

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La cessation tabagique : bénéfique pour votre corps et votre esprit

Smoking cessation: good for body and mind

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