Second-hand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers. It is involuntarily inhaled by non-smokers, lingers in the air hours after cigarettes have been extinguished and can cause or exacerbate a wide range of adverse health effects, including cancer, respiratory infections and asthma.
When a cigarette is smoked, about half of the smoke is inhaled by the smoker (mainstream smoke) and the other half floats around in the air (side-stream smoke). The combination of mainstream and side-stream smoke makes up environmental tobacco smoke (ETS).
Also known as second-hand smoke, ETS plays a bigger part in more health problems than you may realise. The following facts point out why it is so important to have smoking bans in place. No one should be forced to breathe in air tainted with cigarette smoke.
Second-hand smoke and cancer
Second-hand smoke is classified as a Group A carcinogen. A carcinogen is any substance, radionuclide or radiation that is an agent directly involved in the promotion of cancer or in the increase of its propagation.
Cancers linked to passive smoking include:
- Lung cancer – thousands of non smokers die every year from lung cancer caused by ETS
- Nasal sinus cavity cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Bladder cancer.
Some chemical compounds found in smoke only become carcinogenic after they’ve come into contact with certain enzymes found in many of the tissues of the human body.
Risks of second-hand smoke to a child
- Low birth weight for gestational age.
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) − children whose mothers have smoked during pregnancy have an increased risk of SIDS.
- It is estimated that passive smoking is responsible for large numbers of infections annually in children under 18 months.
- It is also estimated that children with asthma have their condition worsened by second-hand smoke every year. Also, passive smoking may be responsible for thousands of new cases of asthma every year.
- Chronic respiratory symptoms such as cough and wheezing may be attributed to second-hand smoke.
- Children who breathe in second-hand smoke are more likely to suffer from dental cavities, eye and nose irritation, and irritability.
- Exposure to ETS causes build up of fluid in the middle ear, leading to middle ear infections.
How second-hand smoke can affect the heart
An estimated 35000 to 62000 deaths are caused from heart disease in people who are not current smokers, but who are exposed to ETS.
Acute and chronic coronary heart disease.
- Passive smoking has been linked to the narrowing of the carotid arteries, which carry blood to the brain, increasing the risk of a stroke.
- Exposure to second-hand smoke hastens hardening of the arteries, a condition known as artherosclerosis.
- Continual exposure to ETS has been shown to nearly double the chance of heart attack.
Second-hand smoke − worse than we thought
Second-hand smoke is a cause for serious concern for anyone who is exposed to it. Non-smokers inhaling second hand smoke share some of the health risks that smokers face. But smokers do face the worst of it – the risks of smoking are compounded by breathing cigarette smoke in for a second time.
Our Employee Wellbeing Programme (EWP) is available 24 hours a day if you want to discuss the dangers of second hand smoking. Call us on 0861872862 or email us at
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