The damage smoking tobacco causes to the smoker’s health has been established and is no longer disputed. However the effect it has on non-smokers in the area, particularly children, can be just as bad, especially in enclosed areas. Smoking in cars has been given particular attention as levels of second hand smoke in cars can be extremely high. Research from Canada showed that the car’s confined spaces are particularly dangerous in presence of smoking because second hand smoke caused by smoking reach a toxic level quickly, even if one attempts to open the windows or operate the ventilation system.

Researchers noted that in the condition with the least airflow (motionless car, window closed) levels of fine particles (known as PM2.5) that can be breathed in, were over 100 times greater than the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 24-hour standard for fine particle exposure and 15 times the EPA’s “hazardous” rating.

There are two types of tobacco smoke:

  • Mainstream smoke, which is directly inhaled through the mouth end of the cigarette by the smoker and
  • Sidestream smoke, which comes from the burning tip of the cigarette.

Second-hand smoke is made up of sidestream smoke and exhaled mainstream smoke, mixed with the surrounding air. Sidestream smoke is about four times more toxic than mainstream smoke, although people inhale it in a more diluted form. This is because sidestream smoke contains much higher levels of many of the poisons and cancer-causing chemicals in cigarettes, including:

  • At least three times as much carbon monoxide10-30 times more nitrosamines
  • Between 15–300 times more ammonia

Analysis of secondhand smoke shows that it contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including at least 250 chemicals which are irritants and toxins:

  • Arsenic, which can be found in rat poison
  • Benzene, which is found in petrol fumes and can cause leukemia
  • And cyanide, which is poisonous and an industrial pollutant
Second hand smoke exposure is particularly harmful for children
Second hand smoke exposure is particularly harmful for children.

Second hand smoke exposure is particularly harmful for children because they have smaller lungs and a weaker immune system. Children are a vulnerable group who cannot decide for themselves and depend on the actions of their caregivers. As a vulnerable group, children cannot protect themselves from second hand smoke exposure because they are often not aware of the health risks of second hand smoke exposure; even if they are, they cannot communicate or may be too afraid to ask adults to stop smoking.

Various studies highlight the dangers from second hand smoke in children including:

  • Sudden infant death syndrome
  • Chronic respiratory symptoms (for example, coughing, sneezing, and shortness of breath)
  • Respiratory infections (bronchitis and pneumonia)
  • Asthma and exacerbation of asthma
  • Recurrent otitis media (ear infection)
  • Childhood cancer

Harmful cigarette smoke can still blow back inside. And because more than 80% of smoke is invisible, one cannot see where it goes so it makes it impossible to control. It is our responsibility to protect children from exposure to tobacco smoke. You can do a lot to protect yourself and your family from secondhand smoke by:

  • Quitting smoking if you smoke. Help is available to support you to quit through free support services from the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate on 8007 3333.
  • Do not allow anyone to smoke anywhere in your home
  • Do not allow anyone to smoke in your car, even with the windows open
  • Teaching your children to stay away from secondhand smoke
  • Being a good role model by not smoking

For more information contact the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate on 23266000 / Tobacco helpline freephone 80073333.


© 2016 – VIDA Magazine – Dr. Charmaine Gauci