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Damages From Second Hand Smoke

Also known as environmental tobacco smoke, second hand smoke is a term used to describe cigarette smoke that comes from two sources—smoke that is exhaled by the smoker (mainstream smoke) and smoke produced by a smouldering burning cigarette (side-stream smoke).

Second hand smoke is known to contain at least 250 poisonous chemicals and another 70 cancer-causing chemicals. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, there is no risk-free level of exposure to second hand smoke. That means if you can smell cigarette smoke in the air, it could be harming your health.

Just half an hour of second hand smoke can impair normal blood flow to the heart, a Japanese study suggests.

The study examined the effects of spending 30 minutes in a hospital's smoking room on 15 non smoking men and 15 smokers. The smokers, whose heart arteries already showed damage, were not affected. But in non-smokers, the result was a reduced ability of heart arteries to dilate, which previous research has suggested may be a precursor to hardening of the arteries.

"This change may be one reason why passive smoking is a risk factor for cardiac disease" and related deaths in non-smokers, the researchers said in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study did not examine whether the changes from the one-time exposure to smoke were permanent. Previous research in smokers has found similar changes that may be reversible if smokers quit, said Dr. David Faxon, president of the American Heart Association.

If exposure continues, "gradually, as hardening of the arteries sets in, it's irreversible, " he said. The study "really sort of confirms prior information that we've had about the adverse effects of second hand smoke," Faxon said.

In the study, Dr. Ryo Otsuka of Osaka City University Medical School and colleagues used blood pressure tests and an imaging technique called echocardiography to examine the effect on heart arteries' ability to dilate. Measurements were taken before and after exposure to second hand smoke.

The smoke appeared to impair the functioning of the endothelium, a lining of cells in the arteries that helps regulate dilation. Scientists believe coronary artery disease may begin when the endothelium becomes damaged, leaving the arteries prone to blockages or narrowing. Stanton Glantz, a University of California at San Francisco professor of medicine, said the findings add fuel to the debate over  second hand smoke.

"People walking into a smoky restaurant, do they want to be clobbering the ability of the arteries in the heart to get blood to the heart, even if it's just for a little while?" he said.

Seth Moskowitz, spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., said the study does not change the company's belief that there is no scientific evidence establishing that second hand smoke is a risk factor for lung cancer, heart disease or any other disease in adult non-smokers.

Second Hand Smoke Chemicals

If you are a smoker, you may try not to think about the chemicals in cigarettes. Poisons, toxic metals, and carcinogens enter your bloodstream with every puff you take. Those chemicals affect everything from blood pressure and pulse rate to the health of your organs and immune system.

Air tainted with cigarette smoke is dangerous for anyone who breathes it, smoker or not.

Take a closer look at some of the harmful chemicals in cigarettes and how they affect your health.


A carcinogen is defined as any substance that can cause or aggravate cancer. Approximately 70 of the chemicals in cigarettes are known to cause cancer.


Can be found in pesticides and gasoline. It is present in high levels in cigarette smoke and accounts for half of all human exposure to this hazardous chemical.


This is a chemical that, in liquid form, is used to preserve dead bodies. In gaseous form, it is responsible for some of the nose, throat, and eye irritation smokers experience when breathing in cigarette smoke.

Vinyl chloride:

This is a man-made chemical that is used to make plastics. Smokers are exposed to it through cigarette filters.

Toxic Metals

Toxic/heavy metals are metals and metal compounds that have the potential to harm our health when absorbed or inhaled. In very small amounts, some of these metals support life, but when taken in large amounts, they can become toxic.


This is commonly used in rat poison. Arsenic finds its way into cigarette smoke through some of the pesticides that are used in tobacco farming.


This is a toxic heavy metal that is used in batteries. Smokers typically have twice as much cadmium in their bodies as non smokers.

Radioactive Toxic Metals

There are a couple of toxic metals in cigarette smoke that carry an extra punch of danger for anyone breathing it in because they are radioactive. Lead-210 (Pb-210) and polonium-210 (Po-210) are poisonous, radioactive heavy metals that research has shown to be present in cigarette smoke.


Poison is defined as any substance that, when introduced to a living organism, causes severe physical distress or death. Science has discovered approximately 250 poisonous gases in cigarette smoke.

Ammonia compounds:

These are commonly used in cleaning products and fertilizers. Ammonia is also used to boost the impact of nicotine in manufactured cigarettes.

Carbon monoxide:

This is present in car exhaust and is lethal in large amounts. Cigarette smoke can contain high levels of carbon monoxide.

Hydrogen cyanide:

This was used to kill people in the gas chambers. It can be found in cigarette smoke.


This is a poison used in pesticides and is the addictive element in cigarettes.


The Proven Facts on The Damages of Second hand Smoke

  • Second-hand smoke causes disease and death in healthy non-smokers.
  • Exposure for as little as 8 to 20 minutes causes physical reactions linked to heart and stroke disease:
    • The heart rate increases
    • The heart's oxygen supply decreases
    • Blood vessels constrict which increases blood pressure and makes the heart work harder.
  • The health effects on children exposed to second-hand smoke include Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and breathing problems in children as young as 18 months of age.
  • Children exposed to second-hand smoke in their homes are more likely to suffer breathing problems such as asthma and damage to their lungs. Children are twice as likely to smoke if their parents are smokers.
  • If you are a non-smoker, exposure to second-hand smoke increases your chance of lung cancer by 25 per cent, heart disease by 10 per cent, and cancer of the sinuses, brain, breast, uterine, cervix, thyroid, as well as leukemia and lymphoma.
  • Although only three in ten people report being exposed to second-hand smoke, nine in ten people have detectable levels in their bodies. The test measures exposure that has occurred over the last three days.
  • Second-hand smoke is a major source of indoor air pollution, and the greatest source of air particle pollution.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the risk of developing cancer from exposure to second-hand smoke is about 57 times greater than the total risk posed by all outdoor air contaminants regulated under U.S. environmental law.
  • More than three times as many infants die from second-hand smoke-related Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) as from child abuse or homicide.



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Updated May 2020