second-hand smokeQuitting smoking can be incredibly difficult. While huge strides have been made in recent years to raise awareness of the damage smoking can cause and a significant drop in the number of people taking up smoking, the number of UK smokers is still worryingly high.

At its most popular in 1974, around 45% of adults smoked in the UK. By 2014, research showed that this figure had dropped to 19%. While this is a significant improvement and shows that people are heeding the warnings about smoking-related illnesses, there are still millions around the country who smoke on a regular basis. And for those who do not smoke there can still be a very real danger to health – particularly to those who regularly come into close contact with smokers.

Second-hand smoking

Second-hand smoke can cause extreme discomfort and lasting damage to the people around you who might breathe it in. Second-hand smoke is the general term for the poisonous gases that non-smokers are exposed to when in close proximity to smokers.

Second-hand smoking can include the breathing in of the fumes exhaled by the smoker and also side-stream smoke – the gases released directly from the lit end of the cigarette. Roughly 85% of the smoke in a room populated by smokers can be attributed to side-stream smoking.

The smoke from tobacco products contains well over 7000 different chemicals – hundreds of which are toxic to humans and about 70 of these chemicals have been known to cause cancer. While regular smokers are at greater risk of health problems, Cancer Research UK has estimated that 12,000 people still die each year as a result of second-hand or passive smoking.

Who is at risk?

Second-hand smoke can be harmful to anyone. But the dangers of passive smoking are particularly apparent in babies, younger children, and the unborn children of pregnant women. Breathing in the toxins found in smoke at a younger age can lead to life-long respiratory problems, cognitive impairment and can even increase the risk of asthmatic episodes. In fact, Cancer Research UK has stated that 165,000 new cases of disease in children can be linked to second-hand smoke each year.

Children who are in utero whilst their mother breathes in second-hand smoke have a significantly increased chance of developing asthma in the first five years of their life. Smoke is also the biggest contributor to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

Where are you at risk of second-hand smoke?

Much has been done to reduce exposure to second-hand smoke in recent years. Pubs, bars, public spaces, cars with child passengers – smoking is now banned in all of these places. Nevertheless, the lingering effects of smoking are still deemed to be a problem. Toxins and chemicals also cling to walls, ceilings, curtains, carpets and clothes long after a cigarette, cigar or pipe has been put out. The highest risk of passive smoking can be found in confined spaces such as smoke shelters, bus-stops and inside cars. Opening a window isn’t enough to clear the smoke either; smoke can hang around an area regardless of how much fresh air is coming in.

How can you avoid breathing second-hand smoke?

The best way for a non-smoker to avoid second-hand smoke is to steer clear of the areas where smoking regularly takes place – such as smoking shelters and outside pubs. It is also important to discourage friends and family members who smoke to do so in close proximity to you or in spaces you frequent.

It is important to remember that smoke still sticks to the clothes of smokers, so even if someone isn’t smoking around you, the chemicals may still be there – something that is particularly harmful to babies and small children who may be cuddled by a smoker.

Of course, the most effective solution is to encourage smokers to kick the habit altogether. There are a number of options available to those wishing to quit smoking, including nicotine replacement treatments, chewing gum, vaping and prescription medications such as Champix.

If you are trying to quit smoking or know someone who is, why not get in touch with our qualified pharmacists for expert advice and guidance on 0208 123 0703.