Facebook Pixel

How Bad Is Secondhand Smoke, Really?

Rate This
Lung Cancer  related image Photo: Getty Images

I have never smoked, but I have been exposed to a great deal of secondhand smoke. When I was growing up, from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, tobacco smoke was everywhere. I'm afraid this puts me at risk for lung cancer. According to the medical literature, exposure to secondhand smoke is most dangerous during the first 25 years of life, and it may take decades for cancer to develop.

Approximately 10 percent of lung cancers develop in individuals who have never smoked. Some of these can be attributed to asbestos, radon, or industrial chemicals. Of course, most of us over the age of 40 have been exposed to secondhand smoke. There is no risk-free level, according to a recent review article. Based on the fact that the lungs grow from birth to adulthood, and lung volume continues to expand until age 25, the authors of Reference 2 hypothesized that young people are more susceptible to lung damage from smoke. They performed a case-control study of 2,932 subjects. The results indicate that all individuals exposed to secondhand smoke have a higher risk of lung cancer, and this is significantly higher for those exposed before age 25. Thus, even if we wipe out secondhand smoke today, it will take another generation to wipe out its effects.

Tobacco smoke has two parts: mainstream smoke, generated during puff drawing, and sidestream smoke, emitted between puffs. The active smoker inhales the mainstream smoke, absorbs some of the constituents, and exhales the rest. Both mainstream and sidestream smoke consist of the vapor phase, containing volatiles including benzene, vinyl chloride, and acrolein, and the particulate phase, also called tar, containing semi-volatiles and non-volatiles including alkaloids, aromatic amines, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The compositions of mainstream and sidestream smoke are similar. However, since the sidestream smoke is produced at a lower burning temperature, it has higher concentrations of certain carcinogens including aromatic amines. Smoke condensates have been tested on mice, and the sidestream smoke is more potent in producing skin tumors.

Add a Comment2 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

There have been 34 studies into lung cancer and exposure to cigarette smoke as a child. 3 suggest a raised risk, nearly four times as many 11 suggest PROTECTION with 20 suggesting no raised or reduced risk. The most famous is the World Health Organization 1998 study which concluded:

"Results: ETS exposure during childhood was not associated with an increased risk of lung cancer (odds ratio [OR] for ever exposure = 0.78; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.64–0.96)."

"Conclusions: Our results indicate no association between childhood exposure to ETS and lung cancer risk."

This actually suggests as the upper limit is <_1.0 it="it" is="is" a="a" protection="protection" against="against" lung="lung" cancer.="cancer." p="p">

November 16, 2010 - 1:07am
EmpowHER Guest

’They have created a fear that is based on nothing’’
World-renowned pulmonologist, president of the prestigious Research Institute Necker for the last decade, Professor Philippe Even, now retired, tells us that he’s convinced of the absence of harm from passive smoking. A shocking interview.

What do the studies on passive smoking tell us?

PHILIPPE EVEN. There are about a hundred studies on the issue. First surprise: 40% of them claim a total absence of harmful effects of passive smoking on health. The remaining 60% estimate that the cancer risk is multiplied by 0.02 for the most optimistic and by 0.15 for the more pessimistic … compared to a risk multiplied by 10 or 20 for active smoking! It is therefore negligible. Clearly, the harm is either nonexistent, or it is extremely low.

It is an indisputable scientific fact. Anti-tobacco associations report 3 000-6 000 deaths per year in France ...

I am curious to know their sources. No study has ever produced such a result.

Many experts argue that passive smoking is also responsible for cardiovascular disease and other asthma attacks. Not you?

They don’t base it on any solid scientific evidence. Take the case of cardiovascular diseases: the four main causes are obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. To determine whether passive smoking is an aggravating factor, there should be a study on people who have none of these four symptoms. But this was never done. Regarding chronic bronchitis, although the role of active smoking is undeniable, that of passive smoking is yet to be proven. For asthma, it is indeed a contributing factor ... but not greater than pollen!

The purpose of the ban on smoking in public places, however, was to protect non-smokers. It was thus based on nothing?

Absolutely nothing! The psychosis began with the publication of a report by the IARC, International Agency for Research on Cancer, which depends on the WHO (Editor's note: World Health Organization). The report released in 2002 says it is now proven that passive smoking carries serious health risks, but without showing the evidence. Where are the data? What was the methodology? It's everything but a scientific approach. It was creating fear that is not based on anything.

Why would anti-tobacco organizations wave a threat that does not exist?

The anti-smoking campaigns and higher cigarette prices having failed, they had to find a new way to lower the number of smokers. By waving the threat of passive smoking, they found a tool that really works: social pressure. In good faith, non-smokers felt in danger and started to stand up against smokers. As a result, passive smoking has become a public health problem, paving the way for the Evin Law and the decree banning smoking in public places. The cause may be good, but I do not think it is good to legislate on a lie. And the worst part is that it does not work: since the entry into force of the decree, cigarette sales are rising again.

Why not speak up earlier?

As a civil servant, dean of the largest medical faculty in France, I was held to confidentiality. If I had deviated from official positions, I would have had to pay the consequences. Today, I am a free man.

Le Parisien

November 16, 2010 - 1:06am
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy
Add a Comment

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Lung Cancer

Get Email Updates

Lung Cancer Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!