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Damages From Second Hand Smoke

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.


The Proven Facts on The Damages of Secondhand 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 August 2018