Smoking is a health hazard not only to the smoker but also to others in the smoker’s vicinity. Tobacco smoke contains several chemicals of which nicotine is the main ingredient and addicting substance. It is harmful to the health of a person in multiple ways.
Along with a smoker, others close by or in contact with him are exposed to numerous chemicals present in the smoke. Cigarette smoke contains tar and several other harmful chemicals. The greater the duration of exposure to passive smoke, the higher the risk to one’s health. Children can be affected as well as adults.
The ill effects of passive smoking can occur immediately. One can get irritation of eyes, headache, sore throat, nausea and dizziness after being with a person who is smoking.
A passive smoker may develop a chronic cough after extended exposure to cigarette smoke. Asthma is precipitated and aggravated in non smokers due to passive exposure to cigarette smoke. The functional capacity and efficiency of lungs is reduced in these people, this has been proved scientifically.
Even short term exposure to cigarette smoke has measurable harmful effects on heart function due to passive smoking. It can increase heart rate. Passive smokers are at risk of high blood pressure and heart diseases as are active smokers. This is because tobacco is an independent risk factor for heart diseases.
Passive smokers are at a greater risk of developing chronic bronchitis and lung cancer. Thus for no fault of their own, they develop chronic damage to their lungs. This is manifested by chronic cough and shortness of breath, thus affecting one’s working ability. Long standing chronic bronchitis can lead to heart failure.
Babies face the risk of cot death when exposed to cigarette smoke. Children are the worst affected by passive smoking. Studies have shown that children whose parents smoke regularly develop bronchial asthma and chronic lung disease. Children exposed to smokers have a high risk of developing middle ear infections. This can result in deafness later in life. They become more prone to develop recurrent respiratory tract infections. These children also have a high prevalence of pneumonia and chronic bronchitis.
If a woman smokes during pregnancy, the pregnancy can be aborted or the unborn child may die in the womb. If the baby survives, it may develop growth retardation and physical abnormalities. Close proximity of a pregnant woman to a smoking partner can also harm the baby. Once a woman becomes pregnant she should quit smoking for the welfare of the child. To avoid the ill effects of smoking on the child, parents need to give up smoking; parents should not allow anyone who is smoking to come close to their child.
Apart from these ill effects, smoking by adults in the presence of children has a negative behavioral influence. Children observing their elders smoke, are bound to pick up smoking. Thus they will be further exposed to the health hazards of smoking.
Adults who are non-smokers should be aware of the health hazards of passive smoking. If somebody is smoking in their presence, they have a right to tell the person not to smoke near them. People who smoke in public places should be cautioned not to do so.
Considering the hazards of passive smoking, Government of Rwanda has rightly banned smoking in public places, which is appreciably well implemented. Smokers should be counseled that by smoking, they expose themselves as well as their dear ones to health hazards and be encouraged to quit this addiction.
Dr. Rachna Pande – Internal Medicine Specialist, Butaro Hospital