What is Secondhand Smoke and Why is it Harmful?

Are you wondering what is secondhand smoke?

How about why is secondhand smoke harmful?

If you have routine exposure to smoke (i.e. at work), live with a smoker, or even come into contact with it every once and a while, those are important questions to be asking yourself.

Knowing the risk factors of inhaling secondhand smoke can help you understand the real impact it may be having on your health.

In this post, we’ll quickly explain what secondhand smoke is and then move onto the short and long term effects of secondhand smoke.

What is Secondhand Smoke?

Secondhand smoke comes in two forms:

  • Smoke exhaled out by the person smoking
  • Smoke that burns off of a cigarette or cigar

Both types of secondhand smoke can linger around in the air for hours after someone lights up. However, the smoke that burns off of the cigarette or cigar is actually more harmful to breathe in than smoke exhaled by a smoker.

Burning tobacco smoke is unfiltered and therefore contains more harmful substances than smoke that has been filtered through a smoker’s lungs and exhaled.

Being exposed to secondhand smoke can have a variety of negative health impacts, even if it’s just for a short time.

Air Purifiers Can Help

Before we mention the short and long term health effects of secondhand smoke, it’s good for you to know that air purifiers can help reduce your risks associated with breathing in tobacco smoke.

Air purifiers that contain special types of filters can actually remove the secondhand smoke particles from the air so they don’t end up in your lungs, eyes, or throat.

To find out what those filters are, and how an air purifier works to eliminate smoke, check out our guide on air purifiers for smoke. It explains everything you need to know and offers a few product recommendations.

Short Term Effects of Secondhand Smoke

First, we’ll talk about the short term effects of secondhand smoke since this is the most obvious concern for the majority of people.

Although everyone gets affected differently, there are four core short term effects of being exposed to secondhand smoke. They include:

  1. Cough – When you breathe in cigarette smoke, it can coat your airways. This can cause irritation, inflammation, redness, and a dry sensation that can cause you to cough or clear your throat constantly. This is your body’s way of trying to clear the chemicals out of your system that you breathe in from secondhand smoke.
  2. Eye and Nasal Irritation – There are approximately 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke. And chances are, you’re going to have an eye or nasal reaction to one of them. Your eyes and nasal passageways are sensitive areas of the body and secondhand smoke can cause things like stinging, burning, or redness of the eyes, or a burning, itchy nose.
  3. Headache – If you’re sensitive to smells, you already know that tobacco smoke has a strong odor associated with it. And smoke tends to cling to clothing and fabrics as well as to people themselves. Having direct exposure to secondhand smoke or lingering smoke in a room can easily cause you to develop a headache. The main culprit is the carbon monoxide released from the burning tobacco.
  4. Infections and Sore Throat – The internal inflammation that occurs from breathing in smoke can cause you to be more prone to infections, such as respiratory infections or ear infections. Secondhand smoke also produces sore throats.

Long Term Effects of Secondhand Smoke

Unfortunately, there are also numerous long term effects of secondhand smoke. But there are four, in particular, that tend to be more severe no matter if you have light or heavy exposure to it. They include:

  1. Breathing Problems – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the third leading cause of death in the United States. COPD is chronic inflammation of your lung and brachial tube tissue. Secondhand smoke can cause and worsen COPD.
  2. Coronary Heart Disease – Exposure to secondhand smoke can increase your risks of developing coronary heart disease by as much as 25% to 30%. The constant exposure to the chemicals in secondhand smoke can cause inflammation that interferes with how well your heart is able to push blood to and from it throughout your body.
  3. Lung Cancer – There are proven cancerous chemicals in cigarettes. When they burn, these chemicals can make their way into your lungs. People who have exposure to secondhand smoke increase their risks of developing lung cancer by at least 30%, and it also increases your risks for developing other types of cancers.
  4. Stroke – Breathing in secondhand smoke causes your blood to get stickier, and it increases your chances of developing blood clots. In turn, you have a 20% to 30% higher risk of having a stroke or another cardiovascular event when you’re around secondhand smoke for long periods of time.

Additional Facts

The U.S. Surgeon General estimates that roughly 2.5 million people have died from complications related to secondhand smoke exposure between 1964 and 2014.

Additionally, exposure to secondhand smoke negatively impacts children.

Between 150,000 and 300,000 respiratory tract infections are reported each year in children under 18 months. Secondhand smoke also causes around 400 deaths from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) each year in the United States.

Summary

So, what is secondhand smoke and why is it harmful? It’s a combination of burning tobacco smoke particles and the smoke that’s exhaled by a smoker.

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as “light” exposure to secondhand smoke and any length of time you’re exposed can cause negative health effects.

The best thing you can do if you live with a smoker or spend time in an environment where tobacco is present is to invest in an air purifier.

Air purifiers with special filters to extract smoke from the air can help reduce your risks of short and long term effects of secondhand smoke. To find out more, check out our guide on air purifiers for smoke. It goes over everything you need to know about smoke air purifiers and even suggests a few of the top products you can buy today.