Smoking has been linked to numerous health complications, especially lung cancer and heart risk. It is important to note that smoking is the leading risk factor for coronary disease which is the number one cause of death in the US. In addition, you don’t necessarily have to be an active smoker to be at risk for coronary and heart disease from tobacco smoke. Smoke from another individual’s cigarette presents a similar level of risk to the health of the passive smoker. (Institute of Medicine, 2009). It has been proven that even minimal exposure to second-hand smoke can pose a health risk. Exposure often occurs in workplaces and homes. In addition, public places such as bars, casinos, and restaurants have been proven to expose non-smokers to second-hand smoke. There have been more that 2.5 million reported deaths that can be traced back to second-hand smoke in the US since 1964 (CDC, 2015). Passive smoking is just as dangerous as active smoking. Furthermore, passive smoking exposes individuals to very grim health conditions, and public smoking should be banned to safeguard the health of the general public.
There are two types of smokes that are released during an ordinary smoking session: mainstream and sidestream smoke. Mainstream smoke is that which the active smoker inhales from the pipe, cigar, or cigarette. Unlike other means, in cigarettes the smoke first goes through a filter. The filter is meant to remove some of the harmful nicotine and tar from the smoke before it is inhaled. On the other hand, non-smokers mostly inhale sidestream smoke. Suffice it to say that 85% of smoke produced by a cigarette is sidestream, which is produced at the cigarettes burning end. Additionally, much of this combustion is at a lower rate than mainstream smoke and this causes the sidestream smoke to release carcinogenic substances into the atmosphere. The non-smoker will also be exposed to the mainstream smoke that has passed through the lungs of the smoker. Sidestream smoke is made up of much smaller particles, and their size allows them to remain suspended in the air for a longer period of time (Venn & Britton, 2007).
Second hand smoke is more lethal to small children that it is to adults. Children who live in households where they are exposed to second hand smoke tend to develop certain medical complications. These conditions include: respiratory problems such as sneezing, shortness of breath and ultimately such children are twice as likely to develop asthma later in life. Other symptoms include: respiratory infections, ear infections, and a higher possibility of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) occurring. In adult non-smokers the effects are far much worse. Some of them include: lung cancer and heart disease. In this regard, secondhand smoke caused 34,000 deaths due to heart disease and 7,300 lung cancer related deaths between 2005 and 2009 in the US. Some researchers have also found a link between secondhand smoke and stroke (CDC, 2015).
Moreover, secondhand smoke affects the body in the same way as it affects active smokers. Epidemiological evidence points to a similarity of up to 80-90% on the changes that occur in the body after exposure to both secondhand and active smokers (Venn & Britton, 2007). The mechanisms through which the risk of heart disease is increased are numerous and they interact. The body of a secondhand smoker tends to experience platelet and endothelial dysfunction, arterial stiffness increases and the vessel’s ability to dilate is impaired. Inflammatory markers are also in higher levels than is expected in adults and children exposed to secondhand smoke. Likewise, they are also likely to have lower antioxidant vitamin levels that are synonymous with active smokers. Depletion of these essential antioxidants will leave the cardiovascular system exposed and lacking its protective barrier against oxidative stress. All these factors combined contribute to an increased risk of heart disease. A comparison of the doses of the toxins that active and passive smokers consume also reveals that the differences between the two types of smokers are very minimal. The effects of secondhand smoke across the population are large and generally irreversible (Joaquin & Stanton, 2005).
Public smoking bans are effective are reducing the number of people exposed to secondhand smoke. Several studies highlighted by the Institute of Medicine (2009) show a link between smoking bans in public places and a decrease in the occurrence of heart disease. All studies showed a significant drop in number of heart attacks after a ban on public smoking was implemented. The decrease fell between six and forty seven percent, although this is highly reliant on the method of data analysis used. However, such a level of consistency in the reduction of heart disease rates confirms the adverse effects that second hand smoke has on the general public (Institute of Medicine, 2009). Nonetheless, public bans fail to address the main method through which individuals are exposed to secondhand smoke – at homes and workspaces. There has to be rigorous patient and clinical education to encourage people, especially parents, to avoid smoking around non-smokers at their houses and even their places of work. Such initiatives will not only reduce cases of heart disease, but also create an environment that encourages addicts to quit.
To conclude, secondhand smoke is lethal, especially to non-smokers who are exposed involuntarily, evidenced by the reported 2.5 million deaths since 1964 due to secondhand smoke in the United States (CDC, 2015). In the end both the smoker and non-smoker are exposed to the same risk of contracting lung cancer and heart disease. In fact, in some cases the passive smoker is at greater risk because they are exposed to sidestream smoke which has a higher level of toxins. Children who live in homes where there is an active smoker end up developing medical conditions such as asthma and respiratory infections. Adults, especially the spouses of smokers, are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer and heart disease. However, these worrying repercussions can be avoided. This can be through the ban of public smoking, especially in places of work (Institute of Medicine, 2009). Furthermore, there should be rigorous efforts to educate patients to have smoke-free homes in a bid to end the exposure to secondhand smoke.
CDC. (2015). Secondhand Smoke Facts. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/general_facts/
Institute of Medicine. (2009). Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Cardiovascular Effects: Making Sense of the Evidence. Washington: National Academy of Sciences. Institute of Medicine.
Joaquin, B., & Stanton, A. (2005). Cardiovascular Effects of Secondhand Smoke. American Heart Association(20), 2684-2698.
Venn, A., & Britton, J. (2007). Exposure to Secondhand Smoke and Biomarkers of Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Never-Smoking Adults. Circulation, 990-995.
 SIDS is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant that can never be traced even after an autopsy.
 An epidemiological research involves the study of causes, patterns, and the effect of a condition in a population.