Passive smoke: How does it affect allergies and asthma?

Cigarette smoking is considered the single most preventable cause of death and illness in the United States. Over 400,000 deaths per year are attributable to smoking. Despite this, approximately 20- 25% of adults and adolescents in this country currently smoke.

People who smoke affect themselves (active exposure) as well as people they come in contact with (passive exposure). Environmental tobacco smoke is a combination of mainstream smoke which is inhaled by the smoker, and sidestream smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette. Cigarette smoke contains over 7000 chemicals including nicotine, tar, formaldehyde, cyanide, arsenic, carbon monoxide, methane and benzene. 69 of these chemicals are known carcinogens. Secondhand smoke contains twice as much tar and nicotine than smoke inhaled through cigarette filters. The Journal of the American Medical Association in 1996 concluded that more than 40% of children in the United States, age 2 months to 11 years, live in homes with at least one smoker. In 2006 the United States Surgeon General reported that nonsmokers have a 20-30 percent greater chance of developing lung cancer if they are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work.

Children exposed to second-hand smoke have a statistically significant higher incidence of otitis media (ear infections), tonsillitis, sinusitis, bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma exacerbations than children not exposed. Infants of maternal smokers are three times more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Smoking during pregnancy has resulted in documented spontaneous abortions, premature deliveries, lower birth weights and subsequent decreased lung function, with a higher risk for developing asthma during childhood.

A proposed mechanism for smoke-induced disease involves greater production of an allergy antibody known as IgE, which promotes allergies, asthma and increased hyper-responsiveness in the airways. More recently, cigarette smoke has been recognized as a major irritant to mucosal surfaces which adversely affects ciliary function. The cilia line our upper and lower respiratory tracts and are responsible for moving mucus. After active or passive smoke exposure, our cilia become dysfunctional, thus promoting disease. What most people do not realize is that during smoke exposure, the smell of smoke from hair, clothing or the smoker’s breath will affect the cilia.

The New York States Smoker’s Quitline reports that smoking decreases a person’s life expectancy by 13-14 years. The sooner a smoker quits the better chance the lungs have to heal. Nicotine is one of the most addictive chemicals known. Therefore, smoking cessation may be difficult. Many, “Stop Smoking Programs” are available but are only effective when a true commitment to STOP has been undertaken.

Smokers need to consider the effects of continued smoking on their own bodies as well as all people they come in contact with. If this isn’t a good enough reason to quit, consider the cost. At $10.00 per pack (in Western New York as of 2013), a one pack-per-day smoker will spend approximately $3650 a year for cigarettes. Additional other costs include higher health and life insurance premiums as well as health care costs associated with tobacco-related diseases. By contrast it costs the tobacco companies 5 cents to produce a pack of cigarettes.

For help to quit smoking contact the New York State Smoker’s Quitline at 1-866-NY-QUITS  (1-866-697-8487) or their website

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