Passive Smoking: Killing Millions of People
By Mithilesh Kumar Sinha | EMN
I was sitting in a Railway Station at Dimapur waiting a train for travelling. Some people were sitting around and smoking. I started coughing with the effect of smoking. I forbade them not to smoke but inspite of stopping smoking they made me fun and laughing at me they said, “Nothing will happen. Smoke will not infiltrate to your nose and not affect you.” However, what manages to escape my attention is the non-smoker who might have to bear the brunt, just because he happens to be in the vicinity of a smoker.
This is sheer ignorance of the people. If one can smell tobacco around, it implies that the chemicals present in tobacco are entering into body of the people sitting around and causing harm to them. It is called passive smoking. Passive smoking is the unintentional inhalation of smoke in the air or contact with its chemical constituents emerging from the burning end of a cigarette, bidi or any other means, and also the smoke breathed out by smokers. According to a Study, despite India’s regulation on public smoking, 30% adults are found exposed to second hand tobacco smoke at work.
Passive smoking can harm your body because the smoke released in the air contains more than 4,000 chemicals, many of which are irritants and toxins. Smoke can stay in the air for up to 2.5 hours, even with a window open.
Passive smoking has several subtle as well as overt pulmonary effects. It is an established risk factor for lung cancer in non-smoking persons. It is a significant risk factor for the respiratory symptoms and asthma in children. It is associated with an increased morbidity from asthma in adults, which is difficult to control. Passive smoking can also lead to a poor lung function, small airway dysfunction, and increased bronchial hyper-responsiveness in asymptomatic non-smokers.
According to the World Health Organization, at least 8 million people worldwide die every year from health effects related to smoking, including 1 million from second hand smoke. Victims of second-hand smoke include more than 60,000 children younger than 5 who die of respiratory infection. Today, 30.2% Indian adults are exposed to passive smoking at their workplaces. 266.8 m current tobacco users and a substantial number of people exposed to second-hand smoke are at increased risk of CVDs (cardiovascular diseases (CVDs)
Second- hand smoke (SHS) exposure is a significant problem in India, at both indoor and outdoor. A study has shown that 70% to 80% of the male smokers regularly smoked in home; 3 in every 10 adults working indoor are exposed to SHS. About 23% of adults have reported SHS exposure at public places. In NFHS-3, 25% women reported SHS exposure at home. Second-hand smoke exposure has a bearing to be future smokers. Although smoke free policies are becoming widespread and there is concomitant downward trend in SHS exposed at work places, especially the organised sectors with warning boards displayed. In home, SHS exposure remains high especially among children.
There is also the risk of third-hand smoke, i.e. harmful toxins of tobacco that remain behind on the walls, clothes, hair, toys and upholstery in public places, or in places where people have previously smoked and left. The dose and exposure to second-hand smoke is higher at public places such as hotels, clubs, bars or restaurants. Children are at increased risk, when exposed to thirdhand smoke (THS) toxicants due to their exploratory behaviour and metabolic activity. Dust ingestion was identified as the dominant (80% of the total intake) source of exposure to indoor semi-volatile environmental pollutants in toddlers. This is of enormous importance in India as houses especially in urban slums are compact with poor ventilation. Nicotine is the main component in THS. Oxidants in the tobacco smoke cause local and systemic inflammation. Thirdhand smoke causes significant DNA damage in human cells. Small children are particularly vulnerable as they are exposed to THS/toxicants via inhalation, ingestion, and dermal contact. And also, there is increased risk of cancer in children (1-16 years).
Mithilesh Kumar Sinha is a Finance Officer at Nagaland University, Lumami