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Passive smoking kills

Published:Wednesday | April 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Men who smoke cause disease and death in themselves and those around them. Environmental tobacco smoke, also called second-hand smoke or passive smoking, is well recognised as the direct cause of lung disease in adults and children.

Urinary cotinine levels are used as an indicator of recent tobacco exposure. In the US, where 26 per cent of the adult population smokes, 50-75 per cent of adult non-smokers were found to have cotinine in their urine. This indicates a high level of second-hand smoking.

Effects of nicotine

Nicotine is the main addictive substance in tobacco. It stimulates the central nervous system leading to increased mental acuity and alertness. At the same time, it soothes the nerves resulting in calmness and relaxation. Sadly, over time, tobacco users develop psychological and physical dependence on the nicotine, smoke increasingly more cigarettes and sometimes use stronger stimulants such as marijuana and cocaine.

Second-hand smoking causes deaths

Smokers are often willing to accept the health risk linked to their nicotine addiction. However, people exposed to cigarette smoke are also at risk for death from lung cancer. In the US, approximately 3,000 non-smokers die from second-hand smoke yearly. Since most smokers are men, it is often their wives who die from passive smoking. Babies who die from sudden infant death syndrome are directly linked to parents who smoke.

Effects on the respiratory system

Smoking is associated with changes in the air passages and the lungs. More mucus is produced and the cilia, which sweep the airways, have decreased movement. Lung elasticity is also reduced. Over time, second-hand smoking causes the same effects.

Effects on children

The effects of environmental smoking are greater on children of younger age. Children who live in a smoking environment are more likely to have recurrent pneumonia, asthma, middle-ear infections, bronchitis and sinusitis.

Reduce passive smoking

Measures to eliminate secondhand smoking include the restriction of smoking in public resulting in smokers refraining from smoking. Other measures include physicians asking about tobacco smoke exposure when children present with respiratory problems. By asking questions about tobacco use, the physician can highlight the dangers to the children.

Smokers at home

If you are exposed to secondhand smoke, try to limit your exposure by helping the smoker to quit. Do not cajole or belittle the smoker. Instead, find out if he or she is interested in stopping and direct them to a smoking-cessation programme. Help smokers quit by encouraging self-care (quit smoking, increasing physical activity and a healthy diet), hypnosis, acupuncture and counselling by a physician.

Dr Pauline Williams-Green is a family physician and president of the Caribbean College of Family Physicians; email: yourhealth@gleanerjm.com.

If you are exposed to secondhand smoke, try to limit your exposure by helping the smoker to quit. Do not cajole or belittle the smoker. Instead find out if he or she is interested in stopping and direct them to a smoking cessation programme.