A cigarette a day, may kill your wife

As a chest physician I frequently see cancers in the wives of smoking husband. Most non-smokers are unaware of the hazards of secondhand and third-hand smoke.

Javaid Khan July 21, 2010
Most people in Pakistan are aware of the hazards of tobacco use but general awareness on the hazards of second and thirdhand smoking is minimal. Most people including children can be seen inhaling tobacco toxins in public transport, shopping centers, restaurants and other public places. First, what is the difference between second and third hand smoke?

Smoking by association

Secondhand smoking or passive smoking is the inhalation of smoke, called secondhand smoke (SHS) or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) from tobacco products used by others.

The term third-hand smoke was recently coined to identify the residual tobacco smoke contamination that remains after a cigarette is extinguished and secondhand smoke has cleared from the air. Preliminary research suggests that byproducts of thirdhand smoke may pose a health risk, though the magnitude of risk remains unknown.

Scientific evidence shows that exposure to secondhand and thirdhand tobacco smoke causes disease, disability, and death. Passive smoking has played a central role in the debate over the harm and regulation of tobacco products.

Currently, the health risks of secondhand and thirdhand smoke are a matter of scientific consensus. These risks have been one of the major motivations for smoking bans in workplaces and indoor public places, including restaurants, bars and night clubs.

Why secondhand and thirdhand smoke is harmful

Research by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has concluded that nonsmokers are exposed to the same carcinogens as active smokers. According to the study, a large number of people, particularly smokers, have no idea that thirdhand smoke is a health hazard for infants and children. It is harmful for children as they breathe or inhale these particles from cloths, rugs, bed, or even hands. The risk is especially great for crawling babies.

Researchers have identified 4,700 different chemical compounds that are present in cigarette smoke which include 200 poisonous gases, 60 carcinogens and several heavy, toxic metals. Therefore, over 3,000 nonsmokers die every year in the world from lung cancer caused by Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS). More than 200,000 children have asthma problems caused by the secondhand and thirdhand smoke every year.

What are the long-term effects of passive smoking?

There is scientific evidences that secondhand smoke causes many of the same diseases as direct smoking, including cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases. These diseases include:

  • Cancer: Lung cancer, breast cancer, renal cell carcinoma (RCC),

  • Brain tumor: The risk in children increases significantly with a higher amount of passive smoking, even if the mother doesn't smoke,

  • Ear, nose, and throat: risk of ear infections,

  • Circulatory system: risk of heart disease, reduced heart rate variability, higher heart rate,

  • Passive cigarette smoking increases the risk of atherosclerosis,

  • Lung problems: Risk of asthma,

  • Pregnancy: Low birth weight, premature birth,

  • Risk to children: Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, lung infections, bronchiolitis, increased risk of developing tuberculosis, allergies, Crohn's disease, learning difficulties, developmental delays, and neurobehavioral effects. Animal models suggest a role for nicotine and carbon monoxide in neurocognitive problems, an increase in tooth decay (as well as related salivary biomarkers) has been associated with passive smoking in children and increased risk of middle ear infections

What you don't know can hurt you

As a chest physician I frequently see cancers in the wives of smoking husband. Most non-smokers are unaware of the hazards of secondhand and thirdhand smoke. There is a law in the country which bans smoking inside closed public places but unfortunately most restaurants including fast food multinational chains are violating the local laws. So called separate smoking areas for smokers in restaurants were withdrawn through a government’s notification last year. Research has shown that such areas do not protect non smokers from the ill effects of second hand smoking.

Unless, we non-smokers raise our voice in order to protect our lungs things will not change in the country. Smokers often talk about their right to smoke but do they have right to destroy the health of those who have chosen a healthy lifestyle because of their bad habit?
Javaid Khan The chair for the National Alliance for Tobacco Control and a professor of Medicine and Head Section of Pulmonary Diseases at the Aga Khan University in Karachi. He tweets as @javaidkhan61
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


amingorrine | 13 years ago | Reply Very Interesting! Thank You!
Ajax the Great | 13 years ago | Reply Typical junk science. There is no hard scientific evidence that third-hand smoke is harmful to anyone. Even the dangers of second-hand smoke have been grossly exaggerated. For the real science, Google "Dave Hitt".
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ