Passive smoking; what are the risks?

Joan Mbabazi

You might think you are safe from illnesses that come with smoking just because you do not smoke, however, if you are usually around people who do, you inhale the smoke passively and it might be an even bigger danger than you think, experts warn.

Passive smoking, also known as second-hand smoking, is the inhaling of cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoke of others, especially by a non-smoker.

Dr Vincent Ngendahimana, a general practitioner at Rwanda Military Hospital, says passive smoking is a risk to children as it can cause sudden infant death, respiratory issues (like upper respiratory tract symptoms such as cough, runny nose and sore throat), and asthma (condition in which your airways narrow and swell and produce extra mucus).

He explains that the passive smoke can lead to reduced lung function (these are a category of extra pulmonary, pleural, or parenchymal respiratory diseases that restrict lung expansion, resulting in a decreased lung volume, an increased work of breathing, and inadequate ventilation and oxygenation).

Ngendahimana adds that passive smoking also leads to atherogenesis, middle ear disease, and many birth effects.

“A study estimated that exposure to second-hand smoke was responsible for more than 0.9 million premature deaths worldwide in 2016, in a separate analysis in 2004, 28 per cent of the mortality and 61 per cent of the illness from second-hand smoking was seen in children mostly due to lower respiratory infections and asthma,” he notes.

Ngendahimana states that passive smoking is a known risk for lung cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease COPD (a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs) asthma exacerbation (this is an exaggerated lower airway response to an environmental exposure), diabetes, and heart disease (such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, congestive heart failure) among others.

Dr Stephenson Musiime, a paediatrician at GLAMERC Polyclinic, Remera, says that the passive smoker gets the higher concentration of nicotine since it does not pass through the filter.

Why passive smoke is risky for pregnant women

Dr Iba Mayele, an obstetrician gynaecologist at Gynaecology Clinic Galien, Kimironko, says, “Smoking or being exposed to tobacco smoke either before or during pregnancy is associated with a range of poor pregnancy outcomes, including reduced fertility, an increased risk of pregnancy complication, impaired infancy and child development.”

Tobacco has a number of carcinogenic substances which damage almost all body organs, when a pregnant woman is exposed to tobacco smoke, her foetus is also exposed to that smoke, and so such exposure is harmful to the foetus — both in short and long term aspects. For instance, in short term, the baby’s exposure to smoke increases the risk of pregnancy complication, premature birth, or impaired foetal growth, he says.

Mayele says that there is strong evidence that a woman smoking during pregnancy increases her chances of foetal infant risk death in the first four weeks.

How can second-hand smoke be avoided?

According to Mayo Clinic, an academic medical centre, health you can reduce or eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke by not allowing smoking in your home, if family members or guests want to smoke, ask them to step outside. Air purifiers and increasing ventilation don’t effectively remove second-hand smoke from the air.

Don’t allow smoking in your vehicle, when a passenger wants to smoke, let them do it outside, insist that smoking restrictions be enforced at work. There should be laws against smoking in the workplace; choose smoke-free facilities and restaurants. When you travel, it is advisable to request for non-smoking hotel rooms, however, if you have a partner or other loved one who smokes, offer support and encouragement to stop smoking. The entire family will reap the benefits.

First Published by New Times


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