Second hand smoke consists of two separate types of smoke. Sidestream smoke, which is the smoke that comes straight from the end of a smoker’s cigarette and mainstream smoke, which is the smoke that is exhaled from the smoker. While both are classified as second hand smoke they are not the same. Sidestream smoke contains a higher concentration of carcinogens and smaller particles than mainstream smoke and makes its way into the body’s cells more easily.
Because the way tobacco is manufactured today it contains over 7000 chemicals, of which 250 are known to be harmful to humans and over 60 of these chemicals are known cancer causing agents. When people are exposed to second hand smoke, and in particular sidestream smoke, they are taking in these toxic chemicals just as if they were smoking themselves.
Second hand smoke has been linked to lung cancer, cancer of the throat, larynx, brain, bladder, colon, stomach and breast cancers. While doctors and researchers still debate the actual relationships and effects of second hand smoke to some cancers they agree that second hand smoke is, and can be, a causal factor. The United States Surgeon General even concludes that there is “suggestive but not sufficient proof at this point”. And while cancer is at the top of the list it is widely known that second hand smoke has a part to play in many other illnesses such as respiratory tract infections, asthma and heart disease.
Because of these findings and thirty years of surgeon generals’ reports the federal government and many local government bodies have imposed restrictions on smoking and smokers as to when and where they can light up. In most areas it is no longer allowed to smoke in the work place and in some areas it is no longer allowed to smoke in public places such as restaurants, concert venues and sporting arenas. Some areas haven’t made the laws as strict against the smoker but have laid the responsibility on businesses such as restaurants and bars.
They may still be allowed to have smokers but they must conform to air quality regulations and install commercial air cleaners, better known as commercial smoke eaters. While commercial smoke eaters do an excellent job of cleaning the air it’s becoming more evident that smoking may soon be an activity that can only be experienced in the privacy of one’s home and even then there are issues such as the closeness of neighbors and whether or not children reside in the home.
As doctors and researchers continue to debate the relationships between cancers and the effects of second hand smoke, we, the people, are looking more and more like the research that will prove or disprove them all in the future.