Second-Hand Smoke

We are exposed daily to a form of air pollution that causes twice as many deaths as all other types of air pollution put together. This is known as Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS), which is actually the smoke from other people's cigarettes.

What is ETS?

Also referred to as second-hand smoke, about 85% to 90% of the smoke from every cigarette ends up in the air as ETS. A lighted cigarette produces two types of smoke that a non-smoker breathes in:
  • Mainstream Smoke which is inhaled by the smoker through the filter tip of the cigarette, and then exhaled.

  • Sidestream Smoke from the burning tip of the cigarette which goes straight into the air that we breathe.

ETS consists of around 85% sidestream smoke and 15% mainstream smoke. Sidestream smoke has a higher temperature than mainstream smoke and does not pass through the cigarette's filter tip. The concentration of chemicals in sidestream smoke is thus higher than in mainstream smoke.
This does not mean that smoking is less dangerous. The smoker inhales far more smoke than the people around him because unlike ETS, mainstream smoke does not get mixed with the surrounding air before reaching his lungs.

Why is ETS dangerous?

Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 different chemicals, of which at least 400 are poisonous to man. The World Health Organization reports that at least sixty cancer-causing chemicals have been identified in secondhand smoke. Research on ETS has shown that living with, working with or just being around a smoker can harm your health. When you breathe in ETS, your health is affected adversely.
A person exposed to ETS is at risk of developing health conditions similar to those faced by the smoker, which include:
  • Eye, nose and throat irritations.

  • Respiratory tract infections, with worsening of pre-existing respiratory problems such as asthma, and emphysema.

  • Heart disease and cancers.

Recent studies have estimated that non-smokers exposed to ETS at home or in their workplace have their risk of lung cancer raised about a quarter, while heavy exposure at work doubles the risk of lung cancer.

How are children affected by ETS?

There is evidence to suggest that babies and children are particularly susceptible to the health effects of ETS. When parents or other caregivers like grandparents smoke, their children suffer as well.
Some examples of the harmful effects on children include:
  • More coughs and cold.

  • Higher chance of irritation of the eyes and nose.

  • Reduced lung growth and function.

  • Increased susceptibility to coughs, wheezing and asthma. Children who have never had asthma before are more likely to develop it if one of their parents smokes. Continued exposure to ETS can cause asthma attacks to be more severe and occur more often.

  • Higher risk of suffering ear and chest infections. Younger children who are especially sensitive to cigarette smoke are more likely to develop lung diseases such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Children are more likely to miss school and are less likely to do well in studies as a result of falling sick more often.

  • Or infants - increased risk of sudden death.

Risks during pregnancy

According to the Surgeon General Report, women who smoke while they are pregnant or are exposed to ETS are more likely to suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth. Their babies may be born prematurely or have a lower than normal birth weight.

More likely to pick up smoking

Children whose parents smoke are also likely to pick up smoking, as seen in the Student Health Survey where 6 in 10 youth smokers have at least one parent who is also a smoker.

Third-hand smoke - additional danger after secondhand smoke

An additional danger remains even after a cigarette has been stubbed out. Third-hand smoke refers to cigarette residual particles that remain in the environment after a cigarette is extinguished. These particles linger on a smoker's hair, clothing, household fabrics such as carpets, curtains, rugs and surfaces like floors and windows.
Young children and infants are especially susceptible to these toxins as they crawl on, play on, touch and inhale particles from these contaminated surfaces. This shows that the adverse impact of lighting a cigarette goes a long way.
Smoking has many harmful effects on health and ETS is one of them. Not lighting up a cigarette marks the beginning of a healthier lifestyle for you and people around you. Breathe in the fresh air by going smoke free today!

Resources for Quitting Smoking

Join the I Quit Programme and remain smoke free for 28 days and you are 5 times more likely to quit smoking. You can nominate your loved ones as a supporter when you sign up for the programme. Validate your smoke-free status and redeem a HPB eVoucher* worth $50 at the 28th day milestone. Keep going and you'll also receive eVouchers* worth $30 and $20 at the 3rd month and 6th month milestone respectively!

*Terms and conditions apply.

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