Like most people who don’t smoke cigarettes, I don’t especially like the smell of cigarette smoke. I find it hard to breathe when I am around it and hard to stop smelling it when I finally move away from someone who was smoking. Living on campus for the past two weeks has proved to me one thing—LOTS of people smoke on campus, something I wasn’t expecting. What I really wasn’t expecting, though, was smelling it in my dorm room. My room overlooks a loading dock, and while the loading dock technically isn’t a designated smoking area, students utilize it that way. I’m counting down the days until it will be cool enough to keep my window closed and the smell of smoke out, but until then I’ll been concerned about how much secondhand smoke I would actually have to inhale before it caused me any damage.
According to the CDC, second hand smoke is the smoke from a cigarette mixed with the smoke that smokers breathe out. Most people (me included, until now) think that it might not actually cause a problem, but it’s only problematic because of the smell. According to the American Cancer Society, though, smokers and secondhand smokers are inhaling the same chemicals. The most popular places for adults to acquire second hand smoke is at work and in public areas, making Penn State the perfect environment for it.
When secondhand smokers breathe in smoke, they inhale nicotine and other various toxic chemicals like smokers do. The CDC says that second hand smoke contains more that 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which are cancer causing and can also cause asthma attacks, respiratory infections and ear infections, as well as more severe problems such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). The American Cancer Society says that there are also some cases of secondhand smoke being linked to the throat and voice box, among other illnesses. According to BeTobaccoFree.gov, secondhand smoke has killed approximately 3,000 adults each year because of lung cancer. Second hand smoke can also increase the changes by 20 to 30% of a non smoker getting lung cancer.
It should be noted that the cancer causing chemicals in secondhand smoke is only caused by direct smoke, meaning that any lingering smoke or smell does not have chemicals in it and can therefore not be harmful, according to recent studies by the American Cancer Society. Residual tobacco smoke, or thirdhand smoke, though, could be a larger problem. Thirdhand smoke refers to the smoke particles that settle into dust on surfaces and, when combined with gases, in the air, create chemicals that can cause cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Although it hasn’t been proven yet to actually cause cancer, it can be very harmful for children and babies.
So what can be done about it? Of course, the only thing that can be done to completely eradicate it would be to ban smoking, which won’t happen. There are some immediate fixes, though. According to Live Smoke Free, there are tons of short-term solutions that can be done to stop the spread of smoke. They suggest padding and sealing electrical outlets, light switches and baseboards because smoke can travel through small openings. There are also strips which can be put around windows and doors to keep the smoke out. One of the most important things, and one of the solutions that actually works in my opinion, is to run a fan or an air purifier. An air purifier takes the dust and particles from the air, which could have remnants of cancerous causing chemicals.
Although it’s hard to change the environment around us, being informed about how it affects our health is very important. Learning how to deal with secondhand smoke and stop the spread of it is one of the only ways to keep ourselves healthy against it.