Fogged Up and Fed Up?

At one time or another, all nonsmokers – as well as some smokers – have been annoyed by someone’s cigarette or cigar smoke. Maybe you’ve spent a long day behind the wheel and stopped at a truckstop for a meal. You’re enjoying your food and relaxing when a cloud of smoke invades your space. Although you’re in the nonsmoking section, the plume drifts over from the smoking section and leaves you wondering if there is a nonsmoking section.

A more important question is how dangerous is the secondhand smoke you are breathing. Maggie Hampshire, a registered nurse, assistant professor of medicine pulmonary-critical and director of pulmonary outpatient practices at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, says that 80 percent of secondhand smoke is sidestream smoke that comes from the end of a lit cigarette and does not pass through the filter.

The other 20 percent is mainstream smoke breathed out by the smoker. Sidestream smoke is more dangerous than mainstream smoke because it contains a higher concentration of toxins and cancer-causing chemicals, Hampshire says. She has written an article on secondhand smoke that is posted on the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center website.

We often hear about the dangers of smoking, but what about the nonsmokers who breathe in secondhand smoke? Some have questioned whether the accusations against secondhand smoke are valid. The American Lung Association says secondhand smoke is real and causes much damage. There are between 150,000 and 300,000 cases each year of bronchitis and pneumonia in children under 18 months old who breathe secondhand smoke.

The American Lung Association estimates that 430,700 Americans die each year from diseases related to cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke also causes lung cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, coronary heart disease and stroke.

A more alarming fact is that secondhand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke, has been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a carcinogen. It’s estimated to cause 3,000 lung cancer deaths, 37,000 heart disease deaths and 13,000 deaths from other cancers each year.

There are more than 4,000 substances in secondhand smoke, and 40 of them are known to cause cancer in humans or animals and are strong irritants. The EPA compiled a list of the top 20 hazardous substances, and seven of the 20 are in cigarette smoke. Two of the toxins are nicotine and carbon monoxide.

The other 20 percent is mainstream smoke breathed out by the smoker. Sidestream smoke is more dangerous than mainstream smoke because it contains a higher concentration of toxins and cancer-causing chemicals, Hampshire says. She has written an article on secondhand smoke that is posted on the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center website.

We often hear about the dangers of smoking, but what about the nonsmokers who breathe in secondhand smoke? Some have questioned whether the accusations against secondhand smoke are valid. The American Lung Association says secondhand smoke is real and causes much damage. There are between 150,000 and 300,000 cases each year of bronchitis and pneumonia in children under 18 months old who breathe secondhand smoke.

The American Lung Association estimates that 430,700 Americans die each year from diseases related to cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke also causes lung cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, coronary heart disease and stroke.

A more alarming fact is that secondhand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke, has been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a carcinogen. It’s estimated to cause 3,000 lung cancer deaths, 37,000 heart disease deaths and 13,000 deaths from other cancers each year.

There are more than 4,000 substances in secondhand smoke, and 40 of them are known to cause cancer in humans or animals and are strong irritants. The EPA compiled a list of the top 20 hazardous substances, and seven of the 20 are in cigarette smoke. Two of the toxins are nicotine and carbon monoxide.

The government at state, federal and local levels has informed the public about the dangers of cigarette smoking. Smoking has been banned on sites of federally assisted programs for children and on domestic airline flights. Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to restrict smoking in public.

Cigarette smoke is a difficult subject to discuss. While most Americans agree that it’s their right to breathe clean air, they can’t agree on the definition of air pollution. Many are afraid of offending family and friends by asking them not to smoke in their presence.

Remember, it’s your life and your body. You have the right to ask someone not to smoke in your presence and not feel guilty about it.


Approximately 3,000 deaths each year are from lung cancer in people who were subjected to secondhand smoke.

Other facts about secondhand smoke:

  • It causes the eyes, nose and throat to become irritated.
  • It irritates the lungs, which may lead to coughing, excessive phlegm and chest discomfort.
  • It’s been linked to chest pains and may affect the heart.
  • Source: American Lung Association

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