Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke (also called environmental tobacco smoke or ETS) is the combination of side-stream smoke (the smoke given off by the burning end of a tobacco product) and mainstream smoke (the smoke exhaled by the smoker). Exposure to secondhand smoke is also called involuntary smoking or passive smoking. In North Carolina, people are exposed to secondhand smoke in homes, cars, the workplace, and public places such as outdoor areas of bars, restaurants, and other recreation settings.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded that the widespread exposure to secondhand smoke presents a serious and substantial public health risk. Exposure increases the risk for heart disease and lung cancer in adults, and lower respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia in children. ETS exposure also increases the frequency of episodes and severity of symptoms in asthmatic children, and is considered a risk factor for new cases of asthma in children who have not previously displayed symptoms.4 Secondhand smoke also increases the risk of children getting eye and ear infections, and repeated visits to the doctor for such conditions may be an indicator that children are being exposed to ETS. Exposure to secondhand smoke has also been identified as a risk factor for SIDS.

Eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke is the only way to protect non-smokers.

It is important that your patients (tobacco users and non tobacco users) understand:

  • Secondhand smoke is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar, and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers.
  • Secondhand smoke is not safe.1 There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke can causes disease and premature death in children and adults who do not smoke.2 Over 50,000 nonsmokers die each year in the U.S. from secondhand smoke exposure.
  • Even low levels of exposure can harm nonsmokers' health. Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate the ill effects of secondhand smoke exposure.2
  • Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical components, and at least 250 of these chemicals are harmful to human health. Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke are inhaling many of the same cancer-causing chemicals and toxins as smokers.3
For materials to reinforce your message, see "Common Patient Concerns" listed under Patient Education Materials.

References:

1 California Environmental Protection Agency. Identification of Environmental Tobacco Smoke as a Toxic Air Contaminant. Executive Summary. June 2005.

2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2006.

3 Office on Smoking and Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco

4 Office on Smoking and Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion - http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/general_facts/index.htm