Today is national No Smoking Day – a campaign run by the British Heart Foundation to help support smokers who want to quit. There are lots of good reasons to quit of course. If you’re a smoker, you may be all too aware of the risks smoking has for your health. But knowing how your smoke affects others around you may give you even more incentive to give up.
What is passive smoking?
Tobacco smoke contains thousands of different chemicals and toxic gases, which are known to be harmful to health. If you smoke near someone else, they’ll also be exposed to these toxic compounds and gases – both from your burning cigarette, and from the smoke you breathe out. Breathing other people’s smoke (also known as ‘passive smoking’) can cause a range of different health problems – and these are even more likely to affect children.
How passive smoking affects health
Certain effects of being exposed to someone else’s smoke can happen straight away. Think – irritated eyes, coughing, sore throat, dizziness and sickness. If you have asthma, being around other people who smoke can make your symptoms much worse.
Even more worrying though are the long-term effects. Passive smoking can increase your risk of heart disease and lung cancer, just like smoking itself.
Children are affected to an even greater degree by passive smoking. Middle ear infections and respiratory problems like bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma are all more common in children who have at least one parent who smokes. Smoking is also linked to a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (cot death).
Reducing the risk
If you haven’t yet made the decision to quit, or are still trying to give up, there are things you can do to reduce the health risks to others around you.
If you have children, don’t smoke around them, and don’t allow other people to do so. Smoke can linger in a room for a couple of hours after you’ve been smoking, even with the window open. Smoke also gets absorbed into materials such as carpets, furnishings and walls – which can then release it back into the air. If you’re going to smoke, do it outside, away from the kids, and keep your home smoke-free.
Another area that should be smoke-free is your car. It’s actually now illegal to smoke in cars if you have children with you. The level of smoke can reach dangerously high levels in an area as small as a car, even if you have the windows open.
The last few years have seen a rapid increase in the number of smokers opting for e-cigarettes – often as an aid to wean themselves off ‘normal’ cigarettes, or to reduce the amount they smoke. E-cigarettes are considered to be a safer alternative for the smoker to standard cigarettes. But what about the risks to others? The vapours you breathe out while using an e-cigarette contain nicotine and other tiny particles. Concerns have been raised over how much risk this may pose to others around you. But a summary of the evidence published by Public Health England last year concluded any risk is thought to be minimal, and much less than that from standard cigarettes.
Best advice of course is still to quit smoking altogether – and campaigns like No Smoking Day offer support to anyone trying to give up. If you’re ready to quit, it’s not only an opportunity to improve your own health, but also possibly that of your friends and family.