The Effects of Second Hand Smoke
Second-hand smoke consists of mainstream smoke, the smoke inhaled and exhaled by the
smoker, and side stream smoke, the smoke released directly from the end of a burning
cigarette. Second-hand smoke is highly toxic. It contains over 4,000 chemical
compounds, 50 of which are associated with, or known to cause cancer. Second-hand
smoke is a combination of poisonous gases, liquids, and breathable particles that are
harmful to our health. The following are some of the chemicals in cigarette smoke:
• Aceton (nail polish remover)
• Hydrogen cyanide (gas chamber poison)
• Arsenic (poison)
• Ammonia (floor/toilet cleaner)
• Carbon monoxide (car exhaust)
Since only one third of the cigarette smoke is inhaled by the smoker that means the other
two thirds goes into the surrounding area (Health Canada, 2003). The contaminated air is
inhaled by anyone in that area. Second-hand smoke has twice as much nicotine and tar as
the smoke that smokers inhale. It also has five times the carbon monoxide which
decreases the amount of oxygen in our blood. “It takes more than three hours for 95% of
the smoke in the room to dissipate once smoking has begun.” (The Lung Association).
Health Canada also says that air filters, air purifiers and ventilation systems do not protect
people from second-hand smoke. Especially since the chemicals from second-hand smoke
stay in the air, on food, furnishings, drapes and skin.
Second-hand smoke causes lung cancer in non-smokers. Forcing people to be exposed to
it can result in successful lawsuits as it did for waitress Heather Crowe who worked as a
waitress for 40 years in smoke filled rooms (Westhaver, 2003). “Females are twice as
likely to develop lung cancer from tobacco smoke...” (Colman & Wilson, 2002: p. 1). This
is a concern as many females work in the food service industry.
Youth, between the ages of 13-18, who are exposed to second-hand smoke are more
likely to have asthma exacerbations, respiratory problems, middle ear infections (children 0-
4 years of age), and an increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular problems. For pregnant
females smoking two packs daily, the fetus loses 40% of its oxygen supply. Finally, more
than three times as many infants die from second-hand smoke-related Sudden Infant Death
Syndrome as from child abuse or homicide.
Infants and toddlers are especially vulnerable to the effects of second-hand smoke because
their respiratory system is still developing and they breathe more frequently than an adult.
Moving to another room or opening a window is not enough to protect your children from
second-hand smoke. Also, children whose parents smoke are twice as likely to smoke.
Exposure to second-hand smoke causes: heart disease, lung cancer, nasal sinus cancer,
respiratory ailments in adults, sudden infant death syndrome, and fetal growth impairment.
Recent research has linked second-hand smoke to cervical and breast cancer, stroke,
miscarriages in adults, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, asthma induction,
decreased lung function, cystic fibrosis exacerbations, and cognition and behavior
problems in children.
There are things you can do to rid your home or car of the lingering second hand smoke
once you stop smoking inside. They are:
• Strip the house of drapes, curtain, bedspreads, clothing in storage and drawers, and
have them cleaned or washed completely.
• Use a cleaning solution that does not have strong vapors (no ammonia or chlorine
and never mix the two together), wipe down the walls and surfaces of all the
• Have the carpets and upholstery cleaned.
A recent report acknowledged that “smoke - free policy and legislation would reduce ETS
exposure among New Brunswickers by 80%, cut cigarette consumption among smokers by
at least 20%, and save New Brunswickers an estimated $132 million a year in avoided
health care costs ($28 million) and productivity losses ($104 million).” (Coleman & Wilson,
In summary, second-hand smoke causes disease and death in healthy non-smokers.
Exposure to second-hand smoke for as little as 8-20 minutes causes physical reactions
linked to heart and stroke disease (increased heart rate, decreased oxygen to the heart,
and the constriction of blood vessels which increases blood pressure causing the heart to