Smoke signals: your body’s fight against first and secondhand smoke

We all have bad habits. Some people bite their nails, others drink 10 cups of coffee a day, and some can’t put down their cellphones. When a habit becomes an addiction, however, it enters a new, very destructive orbit. While nibbling one’s nails isn’t such a big deal, consuming excessive amounts of caffeine is straight-up unhealthy. Fortunately, neither of these is harmful to anyone other than the person with the habit.

When it comes to socially acceptable habits, smoking is arguably the worst. This is for a number of reasons. Not only is it a habit that can quickly become an addiction, it’s also incredibly hard to quit. Worse still, it’s instantly damaging to other people.

This is not news. Ever since 1964, when it was proven that cigarette smoke is dangerous, there have been countless messages urging people to quit, not to start, or at the very least not light up around others. However, the fact that so many people still do smoke, even in public places, means that it’s a good idea to remember why secondhand smoke is such a big deal.

Just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s ok.

In 2017, we have never known as much about the workings of our bodies as we do now. What’s more, we’ve never been as concerned with our health and longevity as we are today. The chances are that you have personally eaten kale, or some other cruciferous vegetable in the last week, or at least know someone who has. Why? Because it’s good for you.

With this in mind, it’s even more outrageous that smoking is still a thing. Perhaps we’ve forgotten why it’s so bad. Instead of vilifying smokers, however, let’s focus on the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Exposure to cancer causing chemicals

Secondhand smoke refers to the smoke that’s exhaled by the smoker, as well as the smoke vapours that escape from both ends of the cigarette. Combined, these sources contain more than 7000 chemicals, including arsenic and formaldehyde. Of these 7000 chemicals, at least 70 are known to be carcinogenic.

When inhaled, intentionally or not, these chemicals are absorbed by your lungs and quickly enter your blood stream. This carries them all over your body. So even if you’ve never smoked a single puff, simply by inhaling someone else’s smoke, you’re at risk of exactly the same diseases that they are.

Compromised immune systems

When your body is exposed to cigarette smoke, it reacts in the same way it would when fighting off an infection. White blood cells rush to the fore, and substantial energy is spent on defending the vulnerable areas, such as your heart, blood and lungs. This means a lowered immune system, making you susceptible to whatever viral or bacterial nasties are doing the rounds.

Non-smokers who can’t shake off that flu virus, or who have a persistent cough, often find that the fastest way to get better is to avoid smokers. Like the plague.

Restricted airways

When a non-smoker is exposed to secondhand smoke, their bodies react immediately by narrowing airways, which makes it difficult for their lungs to get the oxygen they need. Within just 20 minutes of being around people smoking, non-smokers can begin to feel the effects. This means that even a night out at a bar, or at a smoker’s house can leave you feeling short of breath, for all the wrong reasons.

Children are most at risk

Because their little bodies are still developing, children suffer the most from inhaling secondhand smoke. Exposure can cause them to have severe asthma attacks, develop chronic respiratory problems, and even puts them at a higher risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

Not only does smoke damage them physically, being around smoking adults sends a clear message – louder than words – that it’s ok to light up. When preventing the addiction is so much better than having to quit, it’s more effective to make it undesirable from the get go, which places a heavy load of responsibility on family members and grown-up friends.

Taking notes from the neighbours

Interestingly, the state of California is a frontrunner in tobacco control, and its stringent laws have seen a severe decline in lung-cancer related deaths. It’s pretty hard to find a nice place to have a smoke in California, as a statewide ban has been in place since 1998 on smoking in all enclosed work spaces, including restaurants and bars.

The reason can be inferred from this excerpt of their legislation “nonsmokers have no adequate means to protect themselves from the damage inflicted upon them when they involuntarily inhale tobacco smoke”.

In other words, the only way to be safe from smoke is to stay away from smoke. There’s no need to be polite. It’s not an opinion that smoke is harmful to your body, it’s a fact. The best way to preserve your health and that of your loved ones is to ensure that you don’t get a lungful.

About My Health and Fitness

Welcome to My Health and Fitness, a rich source of articles to help you become the best version of yourself. From diet to exercise and general health, our content contributors (including Biokineticists, Physiotherapists, and Fitness Professionals) will cover all your frequently asked questions and more!

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Disclaimer: Our articles are not meant to replace any medical advice as given to you by your doctor or healthcare specialist. Always consult your doctor before trying out a new exercise routine or making drastic changes to your diet, especially where pre-existing conditions are applicable.

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