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Jan 21, 2010

Why Secondhand Smoke is Dangerous?

Secondhand smoke has a variety of names, including environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), passive smoking, and involuntary smoking. By definition, secondhand smoke is "sidestream smoke" (smoke from the burning end of a lit cigarette) or "mainstream smoke" (smoke that is exhaled from the lungs of a smoker).

When doctors refer to secondhand smoke, they are mostly describing sidestream, or ambient, smoke. Put another way, when a smoker lights up a cigarette, roughly 80 percent of the smoke burns off into the room and only 20 percent is inhaled. Sidestream smoke, then, is more dangerous than mainstream smoke.

While both types of smoke share most of the same compounds (including more than 200 substances known to be harmful) sidestream smoke has much higher concentrations of ammonia and chemical carcinogens such as benzene (an additive formerly found in gasoline before it was deemed to be too dangerous). A primary reason for this is that when a smoker inhales, he or she is drawing oxygen through the lit end of the cigarette, thereby nearly doubling the heat at which the smoke is produced. This increase in temperature results in the formulation of smaller, less harmful compounds.

Secondhand smoke is not solely derived from cigarettes; pipes and cigars produce many of the same harmful substances. In fact, a cigar produces much more sidestream smoke than a cigarette because of its larger size. Recent studies have shown that even hookahs carry a significant secondhand smoke risk

You may be surprised about the contents of secondhand smoke. From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here is a list of some chemicals in secondhand smoke and the other places you can find them:
  • Carbon monoxide (also found in car exhaust)
  • Arsenic (rat poison)
  • Ammonia (window cleaner)
  • Acetone (nail polish remover)
  • Hydrogen cyanide (gas chamber poison)
  • Napthalene (mothballs)
  • Sulphur compounds (match tips)
  • Formaldehyde (embalming fluid)
  • Butane (lighter fluid)


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