Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is the mixture of smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, and smoke exhaled by the smoker. It is a complex mixture of over 4,000 compounds, more than 40 of which are known to cause cancer in humans or animals and many of which are strong irritants. ETS is often referred to as “second-hand smoke” and exposure to ETS is often called “passive smoking.”
Health Effects of Environmental Tobacco Smoke
In 1992, EPA completed a major assessment of the respiratory health risks of ETS (Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders EPA/600/6-90/006F). The report concludes that exposure to ETS is responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in non-smoking adults and impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of children.
Infants and young children whose parents smoke in their presence are at increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections (pneumonia and bronchitis) and are more likely to have symptoms of respiratory irritation like cough, excess phlegm, and wheeze. EPA estimates that passive smoking annually causes between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in infants and children under 18 months of age, resulting in between 7,500 and 15,000 hospitalizations each year. These children may also have a build-up of fluid in the middle ear, which can lead to ear infections. Older children who have been exposed to second-hand smoke may have slightly reduced lung function.
Asthmatic children are especially at risk. EPA estimates that exposure to second-hand smoke increases the number of episodes and severity of symptoms in hundreds of thousands of asthmatic children, and may cause thousands of non-asthmatic children to develop the disease each year. It was estimated between 200,000 and 1,000,000 asthmatic children have their condition made worse by exposure to second-hand smoke each year. Exposure to second-hand smoke causes eye, nose, and throat irritation. It may affect the cardiovascular system and some studies have linked exposure to second-hand smoke with the onset of chest pain.
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Reducing Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke
Don’t smoke at home or permit others to do so. Ask smokers to smoke outdoors.
The 1986 Surgeon General’s report concluded that physical separation of smokers and non-smokers in a common air space, such as different rooms within the same house, may reduce – but will not eliminate – non-smokers’ exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.
If smoking indoors cannot be avoided, increase ventilation in the area where smoking takes place.
Open windows or use exhaust fans. Ventilation, a common method of reducing exposure to indoor air pollutants, also will reduce but not eliminate exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. Because smoking produces such large amounts of pollutants, natural or mechanical ventilation techniques do not remove them from the air in your home as quickly as they build up. In addition, the large increases in ventilation it takes to significantly reduce exposure to environmental tobacco smoke can also increase energy costs substantially. Consequently, the most effective way to reduce exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in the home is to eliminate smoking there.
Do not smoke if children are present, particularly infants and toddlers.
Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of passive smoking. Do not allow baby-sitters or others who work in your home to smoke indoors. Discourage others from smoking around children. Find out about the smoking policies of the day care centre providers, schools, and other caregivers for your children. The policy should protect children from exposure to ETS.
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