secondhand smoke

Clearing the Air: EPA Secondhand Smoke Research Making a Difference

Today, no-smoking policies have become so widespread that we hardly think twice when we’re enjoying a meal at a restaurant in a smoke-free environment.

Millions of Americans benefit from these policies, which have significantly reduced exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in public spaces. A few recent studies show us that further reducing exposure can save the U.S. $10 billion annually in healthcare costs and wages lost to sick leave.

Secondhand smoke, passive smoking, side stream smoke, or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) all refer to the same thing: the smoke exhaled by a smoker or given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar.  Whatever you call it, thanks to EPA scientists we know that exposure to such smoke threatens our health—and is especially risky for those most vulnerable like older Americans and our kids.

Through their research, our scientists released a landmark health assessment in 1992, The Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders, that found that secondhand smoke leads to serious health complications, and even premature death. The assessment concluded that infants and young children were especially sensitive to secondhand smoke exposure, leading to more respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia, harming lower lung function, and worsening symptoms of asthma.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Young Children and Secondary Tobacco Smoke

By Marcia Anderson

One-half to two-thirds of all American children under five years of age are exposed to cigarette smoke in the home. A recent national survey indicated that 43 percent of children two months to 11 years of age live in homes with at least one smoker.  Adults have a choice, whether they wish to smoke or not, infants and young children exposed to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) do not have that choice, and it can, and does affect the quality of their lives.

Infants and young children whose parents smoke are among the most seriously affected by exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. In addition, the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that children whose parents smoke had between a 20 and 40 percent greater risk of hospitalization for severe bronchitis and pneumonia during their first year of life.  Children exposed to secondhand smoke are also more likely to have reduced lung function and symptoms of respiratory irritation such as coughing, excess phlegm and wheezing. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of avoidable death in the United States. What this means is that even though the ill effects of active and passive smoking are staggering, they can be reduced and even eliminated.

Secondary smoke, or environmental tobacco smoke is a known cause of lung cancer in humans and a Group A carcinogen. The cigarettes contain some 4,000 substances, of which more than 40 are known to cause cancer in humans or animals. Other chemicals present in tobacco smoke such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide are strong irritants that can cause a variety of serious cardiac and pulmonary diseases. What’s more, there are no safe threshold levels of exposure to the toxicants in tobacco smoke that have been found.

Toxic Ingestion of Cigarette Butts.

Another source of exposure to tobacco by babies and toddlers is the ingestion of cigarettes or cigarette butts. Most cases of nicotine poisoning in children result from ingestion of cigarettes. Each year, poison control centers in the United States receive thousands of reports of children ingesting tobacco products. Researchers at the Rhode Island Department of Health recently analyzed reported ingestions of cigarettes among children under the age of six in their state. The mean age of the child involved was 12 months, and 77 percent of the children were between the ages of six and 12 months. Ninety-eight percent of the exposures occurred in the child’s home.

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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My Secondhand Smoke “Aha” Moment

By Alison Freeman

Did you know that more than half of young children are exposed to secondhand smoke and most of this exposure occurs at home? Now that the weather is warming up, this is a good time to talk with loved ones who smoke about the benefits of taking smoking outside.

My secondhand smoke “aha” moment came a number of years ago at a colleague’s going away party. I picked up my son at his pre-school near work, cautiously entered the restaurant (sniffing for smoke along the way), then dashed my son to the private back room where the event was being held. Relieved there was a door and the air smelled free of smoke, (and giving no thought to ventilation), I foolishly concluded that it was safe for my son to stay. During our drive home, I kissed my son’s head and ruffled his hair and quickly discovered he reeked of cigarette smoke.

There’s good reason for my instinctive reaction I experienced and that I still so clearly recall. There is no risk-free exposure, no safe level of secondhand smoke, and no safe tobacco product, either for the smoker or the nonsmoker exposed. Cigarettes are a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals and breathing in even a little smoke can be dangerous, resulting in temporary and sometimes permanent health consequences. We know secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in adults and children who do not smoke.

Choose to smoke outside, until you can quit, and share that message with others you care about or who care for your kids in their homes or cars.

To learn more about the dangers of secondhand smoke, visit EPA’s website.

To get help with quitting, visit Smokefree.gov or contact the national quitline at 1-800-QUITNOW.

Lastly, the Surgeon General and CDC websites host a number of helpful consumer publications, posters, and tips.

About the author: Alison Freeman is the secondhand smoke policy specialist in EPA’s Indoor Environments Division, which addresses indoor air topics, including smoke-free homes, asthma, mold, radon, Indoor airPLUS and schools.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Making a Difference: Conducting Environmental Interventions to Deliver Asthma Care

By Jan Roberts

Chances are you or someone you know has asthma. Whether it’s your child, parent or friend, this person helps make up the nearly 25 million people with asthma living in the U.S. This statistic is staggering, as asthma is one of the most controllable diseases. Our job at Genesee County Asthma Network is to turn around this figure by making healthy, environmental changes within our community. By making small changes in homes and schools, we can significantly improve our patients’ quality of life.

Those affected by asthma often use only 50 percent of their lung function because they don’t – or are unable to – eliminate the asthma triggers around them. To effectively deliver high-quality asthma care, we complete tailored environmental interventions in our patients’ homes and schools. We assess homes for asthma triggers while identifying potential financial or social barriers to fixing them. During these visits, we educate our patients about their medication, demonstrate safe cleaning methods, and help develop a personalized asthma action plan, which is tailored to the patients’ sensitivities, such as secondhand smoke or pet dander. For children in our program, we take it one step further and go into schools to educate their teachers, principals and maintenance staff (among others) on the basics of asthma and how it can affect student productivity and performance.

We know this hands-on approach works and produces dramatic results; among the patients we serve, emergency room visits have dropped by 45 percent and hospitalizations by 25 percent. By tracking medical records and administering questionnaires, we have also seen reductions in medication usage, decreased school absenteeism, and a general improved quality of life in both the children and adults we serve.
With limited resources and staff, our program continues to deliver comprehensive care by building partnerships within our community. We team with our local lead poisoning prevention program, Habitat for Humanity, the American Lung Association and others to share resources and holistically address asthma management.

If your program is interested in learning strategies on developing meaningful partnerships, I recommend attending EPA’s Communities in Action National Asthma Forum, June 9-10, 2011, in Washington, D.C. The Forum helped our program discover the power of collaboration and optimizing our resources, while delivering tailored environmental interventions that make a great impact.

About the author: Jan Roberts, RN, AE-C, has been with the Genesee County Asthma Network for 14 years and currently serves as the Asthma Disease Manager. The Genesee County Asthma Network is the recipient of EPA’s National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Hispanic Heritage 2010 – Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

By Carmen Torrent

Is the air in your home healthy? Do you know how harmful substances got there and what to do about them? These are important questions to ask. Asthma triggers, mold, radon and secondhand smoke are all known to reduce the quality of indoor air.

As a Latina, one of the most important values for me is my family. I hold close to my heart not only my immediate family, but also my extended family of friends, neighbors and my three dogs.

A healthy family is an important part of our heritage. However, families often don’t know how important good indoor air quality (IAQ) is to their health. My neighbor, whom I love dearly, is a sweet, elderly woman who is mostly home-bound. This is actually not unusual, for the average American spends more than 90 percent of their time indoors. When I found out she has asthma, I helped her identify her triggers. I went through her house with her and pointed out how dust mites, mold and animal dander and other problems can be controlled to help reduce asthma triggers. Now she has an asthma action plan, takes the proper medication, and is controlling the quality of the air in her home. Learn more about those asthma triggers and watch the video “Breathing Freely: Controlling Asthma Triggers.”

Breathing clean air (whether indoors or outdoors) is essential for good health. The first step is to identify the source of pollutants and then take action to resolve any problems. Some key actions we should all take to protect our families include:

  • Get the mold out! Some people, such as infants and children, are especially vulnerable to mold exposure. Fix or eliminate any water problems, clean up the mold and control humidity levels.
  • Test and fix your home from radon. In fact, radon is the #1 cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. You don’t know if you have a radon problem unless you test your home. Learn about how to get a test kit.

Remember, we can all control the quality of our own indoor air while preserving our heritage and the health of our loved ones.

About the author: Carmen Torrent a public affairs specialist in EPA’s Office of Indoor Air.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Stopping The Secondhand Smoke Blues

I recently traveled to a large city and while there I tried to take it all in – the food, sightseeing attractions, and the people. Unfortunately another thing I took in while visiting was all of the secondhand smoke on the crowded streets. At first, I didn’t realize the number of people smoking until I got back to my room and still smelled smoke. My clothes and hair had utterly absorbed it! Now you’re probably thinking that because I’m from Indiana and a smaller city than most, I wouldn’t really have a clue what big cities and people smoking all the time would be like. And while that has been true, I also find that here in Washington, D.C., I don’t really have a problem breathing fresh air either. So it truly was a surprise to me to experience such a ‘smoky’ city. I also grew up in a household where my parents did not smoke. I think that this is one of the greatest gifts I have been given by my parents and in doing so, they raised me not to smoke either. Not that I would have had any say in the matter as a child, but growing up in a smoke free household was a gift to my health and overall well-being. For this reason, smoke free homes are essential for children today. While you can’t really avoid secondhand smoke walking on the street in public, it makes it even more essential to have a house that children can go home to where they can easily breathe. Children spend the majority of their time at home and therefore it is extremely important to have a smoke free home. Children’s bodies aren’t as developed and their lungs can be brutally affected by exposure to second hand smoke. They have higher breathing rates than adults and have little control over their indoor environments. Choosing not to smoke in your house will reduce the risk of children getting sick with coughs, breathing problems like asthma, and developing ear infections. In honor of Children’s Health Month, you can take a pledge to make your home and your car smoke-free and get your very own pledge certificate. You can also read helpful information and read more about health effects. By making your home smoke free your children will thank you for it later! And you can be proud of yourself as well!

About the Author: Emily Bruckmann is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a senior attending Indiana University who will graduate with a degree in public health this spring.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.