Today, the world is growing more aware of how harmful exposure to toxic substances can be. You hear about cases being filed by employees who have been exposed to unclean air, about lawsuits against toy manufacturers who use lead based paint and so on. But, we tend to overlook the drastic, possibly fatal, impact of something as common as tobacco smoke. The horrifying fact is that this smoke poses great risk even to those who do not actually smoke themselves. They can be exposed to the ill effects if they share a room with a smoker or work at a place where smoking is allowed. Studies have revealed that the adverse effect of passive smoking is so drastic that non- smokers are at far greater risk than the smokers themselves.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), SHS or second hand smoke is one of the most widespread toxins you will find in the air. The organization points out that over a third of the world population is exposed to SHS and this is responsible for the death of approximately 600,000 individuals every single year. There is little doubt that this is a potent killer and passive smokers are at great risk. The only way to curb this menace is to educate people about how SHS can have a far bigger detrimental impact on non-smokers than the smokers. Not convinced yet?

Passive Smokers are Exposed to Mainstream and Sidestream Smoke

One of the major reasons why passive smokers are at higher risk is that they are not just exposed to mainstream smoke, which is the smoke, inhaled by the smoker and then exhaled. The non- smokers also breathe in sidestream smoke, which is the smoke emanating from the lit end of the cigarette. The sidestream smoke contributes to about 85% of the tobacco content in the environment of a room. The shocking fact is that it also has far more carcinogens than mainstream smoke.

Smoke from the cigarette stays in the air for over two and a half hours after the cigarette has been snuffed out or the smoker has left the room. In a home where one person smokes, the most affected may be those who spend most of their time in the closed environment rather than those who leave the smoke-laden interiors.

Children are Particularly Vulnerable

In a report published in The Hindu, the stance of oncologist Vishal Rao was clearly explained. Highlighting the fact that passive smoking or SHS is far more dangerous than active smoking, Dr. Rao pointed out that, annually, over 6000 children, on an average, are admitted to hospitals for various ailments that can be traced back to SHS. He also cautioned that an increase in the number of sudden infant death syndrome cases can also be attributed to unchecked smoking by parents.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of passive smoking because their organs are still developing. ETS (Environmental Tobacco Smoke) can impair this development resulting in poor lung function and poor respiratory systems. It can also impair brain growth. In addition, research also indicates that passive smoking may hinder a child’s learning ability because of its neurotoxic effects. Over 21 million children around the world are believed to be reading-impaired owing to their exposure to SHS.

The harmful effect of passive smoking that places non- smokers at greater risk than smokers cannot be ignored in any case. It is time to ensure that stringent regulations are passed to prevent public smoking so that this menace can be curbed effectively. It is equally important to educate smoking family members to quit the habit as soon as they can to protect their health and that of their family members.