It’s still the beginning of the new year so I hope we can all reach out to someone we know who smokes, to help him or her quit (scroll all the way down for links to more info on this, smoking, and respiratory diseases). We’ve all heard over and over how smoking is harmful to us, and the single most important thing we can do for our health, and for those who do smoke, is QUIT! “Cigarette smoking is the single most preventable major direct and indirect cause of deaths and suffering among adults Worldwide” (The World Health Organization quote from Environmental Science, Miller), so forgive me for sounding so firm. Most of us are aware how unhealthy smoking is, but do we know why repetitive exposure to secondhand smoke and even thirdhand smoke can be equally dangerous to our health?
Before we discuss second and thirdhand smoke, let’s discuss new findings about smoking firsthand, responsible for the loss of 3,000 lives a day worldwide. The latest? Cigarettes start to destroy a smoker’s DNA within minutes of inhaling, new research indicates, suggesting that the habit causes immediate genetic damage and quickly raises the short-term risk for cancer (news release from the American Chemical Society published in the current issue of the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology).
Why is secondhand smoke dangerous?
World Health Organization estimates that at least 3 million people die prematurely each year from smoking related diseases, and the National Center for Health Statistics estimated about 9,000 Americans die prematurely due to smoke related disease from inhaling secondhand smoke alone!
Cigarette smoke contains over 63 different chemicals which we inhale if we smoke or are near someone who is smoking, or if we are in a smoke filled environment. Let’s keep in mind that even if we’re not close to someone who is smoking, the chemicals are still emitted into the air, which we will inhale. An example would be if we are in a restaurant that has smokers at the bar area only, we will still be affected by their smoke. If the restaurant is large and well ventilated, we will inhale less of these toxic chemicals.
What are these chemicals and their effect? Let’s start with ammonia, arsenic, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, benzene and of course nicotine (sound like we’re standing behind a bus?). These are just a handful of the more well known toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke in the form of gas along with radioactive compounds. They’re not only harmful to our lungs, airway passages and blood vessels, but one study along with others have found a direct relationship between cigarette smoke and lowered levels of blood serum antioxidants in smokers and NON-smokers alike! Yes, if we smoke or hang around cigarette smoke even for a short period of time, we may be lowering the antioxidants in our blood stream. My guess is that the antioxidants in our blood are devouring the toxins we are inhaling, thereby reducing their levels in our blood (a good reason to take in antioxidants on a regular basis!). The question is, how does this affect our immune system’s ability to fight other diseases? And let’s not forget about the relationship between smoking itself, heart disease, respiratory diseases and of course lung cancer.
Yes, thirdhand smoke, there are now studies underway looking at the harmful effects of thirdhand smoke.
Scientists are reporting that “thirdhand smoke” the invisible remains of cigarette smoke that deposits and remains on carpeting, clothing, furniture and other surfaces may be even more of a health hazard than previously believed. The study, published in ACS’ journal, Environmental Science & Technology, extends the known health risks of tobacco to people who do not smoke, but encounter the smoke exhaled by smokers or the leftover smoldering cigarette butts.
Known as indoor air pollution, studies show that nicotine in thirdhand smoke can react with the ozone in indoor air and surfaces like clothing and furniture, to form other carcinogenic and disease causing pollutants. Exposure to these chemicals can affect babies crawling on the carpet, people napping on the sofa, or people eating food tainted by thirdhand smoke.
The positive reasons to quit? Here are just a few:
- 20 minutes after quitting: Blood pressure returns to a level close to that of the last cigarette. Our peripheral circulation starts to improve (hands and feet start to receive more blood).
- 8 Hours after quitting: The carbon monoxide level in our blood drops to almost normal.
- 1 Day after quitting: Decreased levels of blood pressure and pulse begin to reduce chance of heart attack.
- 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting: Total circulation improves (And for those of us who have a touch of vanity too, let’s not forget how our skin will start to glow again) while lung function increases up to 30%.
- From 1 Month to 1 year after quitting: Coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue, and shortness of breath continue to improve, reducing risk factors of cardiovascular disease by half that of smokers in 1 year.
So from the last puff, our benefits begin immediately and over the next 5, 10 and 15 years after quitting, risk factors for all environmentally caused cancers decrease significantly. Our risk of heart disease becomes the same as a non smoker by the 15th year (does this sound too long off to care about? Well, doesn’t time go by pretty fast?) and on the level of vanity, our skin starts to receive the nutrients it has been deprived of from within, almost immediately, which will aid its appearance and our skincare routines. Our body has amazing powers to heal and regenerate when we don’t deprive it of oxygen and nutrients, so if we smoke please get help to stop and save a life: our own. And for those of us who don’t smoke, let’s gently spread the word while we decrease our own exposure.
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June M Lay M.S.
Know someone who smokes? Please pass on this tip.Smoke and want to quit? Replace a negative habit with a positive; how about exercise? Want more information on cancers? Go to http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/indexAnd
Information on chemicals contained in cigarette smoke: International Agency for Research on Cancer, The American Lung Association
Physiological changes in our body after quitting taken from “The American Cancer Society” www.cancer.org JAMA. 2000;284:735-740.
Thirdhand Smoke: Heterogeneous Oxidation of Nicotine and Secondary Aerosol Formation in the Indoor Environment” Environ. Sci. Technol., 2011, 45 (1), pp 328–333 10.1021/es102060v Publication Date (Web): December 8, 2010 C© 2010 American Chemical Society
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