Secondhand smoke, also called passive or environmental tobacco smoke, consists of two categories:
1. Mainstream smoke: the smoke exhaled by a smoker.
2. Sidestream smoke: the smoke coming directly off the burning cigarette.
The Environmental Protection Agency has classified secondhand smoke as a Class A carcinogen, meaning it is a substance known to cause cancer in humans. It contains twice as much nicotine and tar as the smoke directly inhaled by smokers, and five times the amount of carbon monoxide.
According to the University of Minnesota's Division of Periodontology, between 70 and 90% of Americans, including children and adults, are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke. Only about 15% of the smoke generated by a cigarette is inhaled by the smoker. The other 85% of this smoke containing 40 carcinogens lingers in the air for everyone else to breathe. For every eight smokers who die from smoking, one innocent non-smoker also dies. Shockingly enough, if a person sits in the same room with someone smoking for about two hours, they will have inhaled the equivalent of four cigarettes.
These statistics are scary because nobody can avoid secondhand smoke altogether. Each time we walk by someone smoking or sit in the same room as them, we are inhaling cancer-causing chemicals. This should be yet another motivation for active smokers to quit: smoking is definitely not an individual decision. Your decision to smoke negatively affects everyone around you. As non-smokers, there are some things we can do to avoid the harmful effects of secondhand smoke:
- Don't allow anyone to smoke inside your house. If they have to smoke, ask them to do it outside.
- Avoid restaurants and other public places where people are allowed to smoke. Go to smoke-free places only.
- If someone is smoking on the street, walk quickly past and don't linger near them.
- In situations where sitting by a smoker is unavoidable, simply ask them politely to put out their cigarette or smoke elsewhere.