Second-hand Smoke: Should You Be Concerned?

by Christopher Laffey on March 31, 2014


Have you ever decided to get some exercise and walk to class or work, rather than take the bus, only to be stuck behind someone smoking a cigarette the whole time so that by the time you get there you think your lungs might actually collapse? Living in the city can often make it difficult to avoid inhaling various air-borne pollution, but it seems that second-hand cigarette smoke is the most bothersome for many people. It may be that it could so easily be removed from our environment and that its adverse health effects are so widely known.

Most smokers probably are not thinking about you when they light up for their cigarette break. Should they be? According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), cigarette smoke contains over 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. In second-hand smoke, there are approximately 250 toxic chemicals, 50 of which are known to cause cancer. For me, this is cause for concern.

Smokers will argue that the minimal amount of smoke that is dragged out of their cigarette, inhaled and filtered in their lungs, exhaled and diluted in the environmental air and then enters your airway is insignificant and, while you may be slightly irritated or annoyed, will not cause you harm. They may be right; however, even brief exposure to second-hand smoke can damage cells in ways that set cancer in motion. It immediately affects the heart, blood vessels and circulation. Smokers, the chances that you’re really going to hurt someone from your second-hand smoke as you walk down a public outdoor street may be small, but would you want to be responsible for that one in a million whose cancer or heart disease is triggered by the brief exposure to the smoke from your cigarette?

Consider this: a 2006 surgeon general’s report confirmed that secondhand smoke can kill, and it concluded that there is no amount of exposure to secondhand smoke that is safe. The dangerous particles in secondhand smoke can linger in the air for hours or even longer, so when the hoards of smokers stand near the entryway to Boston University’s School of Management and take their cigarette break and the smoke drifts on into the lobby, they are potentially putting even the people who walk into the building an hour later at risk.

Here are some quick facts on second-hand smoke, for your convenience:

  • Second-hand smoke involuntarily inhaled by nonsmokers from other people’s cigarettes is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a known human (Group A) carcinogen, responsible for approximately 3,400 lung cancer deaths and 46,000 (ranging 22,700-69,600) heart disease deaths in adult nonsmokers annually in the United States.
  • Even people who smoke fewer than five cigarettes a day can have early signs of cardiovascular disease.
  • If nobody smoked, one of every three cancer-deaths in the United States would not happen.
  • Second-hand smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and a number of health conditions, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and respiratory infections, in children.
  • The Surgeon General estimates that living with a smoker increases the chance of getting lung cancer by 20% to 30%.
  • The dangerous particles in second-hand smoke can linger in the air for hours or even longer. It isn’t just the smoke that’s a concern, though. The residue that clings to a smoker’s hair and clothing, as well as cushions, carpeting and other goods — sometimes referred to as third-hand smoke — also can pose risks, especially for children.

So to all you smokers, keep others’ health in mind when you decide where to light up a butt. And to all you nonsmokers, remember that chances are, you won’t see any negative health effects because you had to walk behind someone smoking a cigarette for a couple minutes on your way to class, but if you’re someone who likes to err on the side of caution, it can’t hurt to keep your distance and avoid spaces where smokers tend to congregate.



Chris Laffey is a student at Boston University’s College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College studying health science with a minor in business administration and management. He is a Student Health Ambassador for BU’s Office of Wellness and Prevention Services and instructs swimming and lifeguarding at the Fitness and Recreation Center. His health interests include substance abuse, sexual health and social well-being.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Franklyn Phillippy April 22, 2014 at 12:38 pm

I just want to mention I am very new to blogs and truly enjoyed you’re web-site. Likely I’m likely to bookmark your blog post . You absolutely have really good article content. Cheers for sharing your website page.


vintage bikini April 25, 2014 at 1:30 pm

I blog frequently and I really appreciate your content. The article has really peaked my interest. I’m going to take a note of your site and keep checking for new information about once per week. I subscribed to your RSS feed too.


click here April 25, 2014 at 2:21 pm

This is a really good tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere. Brief but very accurate info… Thanks for sharing this one. A must read article!


teeth whitening dallas texas April 26, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post! It’s the little changes which will make the greatest changes. Many thanks for sharing!


browse link April 27, 2014 at 6:21 pm

An interesting discussion is definitely worth comment. I think that you need to write more about this subject matter, it might not be a taboo matter but generally people do not discuss these topics. To the next! All the best!!


discover more April 28, 2014 at 6:21 am

Aw, this was a really nice post. Spending some time and actual effort to generate a superb article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a whole lot and don’t seem to get anything done.


ibogaine April 28, 2014 at 7:51 am

This is the right website for anybody who hopes to find out about this topic. You know a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I personally would want to…HaHa). You certainly put a brand new spin on a topic that’s been written about for many years. Wonderful stuff, just wonderful!


crystal spiral cakes April 28, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Great web site you’ve got here.. It’s hard to find high-quality writing like yours nowadays. I truly appreciate people like you! Take care!!


User April 28, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude!


Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: