Secondhand smoke is the smoke that comes from the end of a lighted cigarette, cigar or other lighted tobacco product meant to be smoked along with the particles exhaled by someone smoking. These days it can also include the smoke from a burning marijuana cigarette. There is no safe level of exposure to it.
Secondhand smoke can seem transient, but it contains over 7000 chemicals, over 70 of which can cause cancer. That’s more than the tailpipe of your car and includes some of the same emissions such as carbon monoxide, benzene, and lead, and cause greater pollution than an idling diesel engine.
What’s more, is that the particulate matter in secondhand smoke is ridiculously small. In scientific terms it is known as PM 2.5. PM stands for particulate matter and the 2.5 indicates that the particle is smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter. A single hair on your head is about 70 microns. Another famous element that is classified as PM 2.5 is asbestos. No one argues about the cancer-causing ability of asbestos and the damage it can do to lungs. Particles this fine can embed themselves deeply into the lungs. So deeply they never come out. Ever. That’s why the CDC has declared that there is no safe level of exposure.
It’s not just lung cancer that is caused by secondhand smoke. All cancers can be caused by secondhand smoke exposure. Keep in mind that those 70 different cancer-causing chemicals, once in the lung, enter the bloodstream and can travel anywhere, the pancreas, reproductive organs, brain, anywhere.
The carbon monoxide in secondhand smoke bumps oxygen off of red blood cells, making the heart work harder to transport blood through the body. Other components of secondhand smoke cause platelet clumping, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
In pregnant women this reduced oxygenation of the blood can lead to low birth-weight and even miscarriage.
There are many other serious health conditions brought on or exacerbated by smoking and secondhand smoke, too numerous to detail here.
Fortunately, many cities and states have begun to realize how dangerous this exposure is and have created laws banning smoking in public places such as workplaces, restaurants, and bars. Many cities in California have banned smoking in parks and on beaches, and some have begun banning smoking in multi-unit housing. Unfortunately, any exposure is still too much, everyone needs to breathe, no one needs to smoke.
To learn more about what you can do, click here.