On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Secondhand -- and Thirdhand -- Smoke Unsafe in Any Amount

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I was intrigued by your breakdown of results to your health when you quit smoking. I was born in the 1950s to parents who smoked cigarettes. I lived 18 years in a smoke-filled environment, and probably because of that, have never touched a cigarette. What effect does that have on children’s health, both short- and long-term? Perhaps if parents understood that smoking around a newly developing human has consequences, they might reconsider such a nasty habit. -- D.D., via email

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I have a question about secondhand smoke. I quit 27 years ago, but my former wife kept on smoking until she died four years ago -- in the house, car, etc. How does this affect me? -- H., via email

DEAR D.D. AND H.: There is no safe exposure to tobacco smoke. Secondhand smoke -- that is, smoke inhaled by individuals nearby who aren’t doing the smoking -- is also dangerous. According to the CDC, there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. This is especially true for infants, children, the elderly, and anyone with respiratory or immune system issues. There are risks for all exposed -- including pets.

A study in the October 2012 issue of the journal BMC Health Services Research reported that average annual medical costs (physician visits, physical therapy and hospital treatments) were considerably higher for children exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke at home (whether indoors or outdoors) compared with those who were not exposed. It can cause numerous health problems in infants and children, including more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). That should be quite sobering. For the complete list of risks from secondhand smoke, visit tinyurl.com/j2j4gsf.

But it does not stop there: There is even a risk from “thirdhand smoke.” This risk refers to exposure and possible inhalation of the smoke particulates that settle on skin, clothing and other surfaces. Thirdhand smoke is responsible for the telltale odor on objects, clothing, furnishings and areas where smoking has taken place. The odorous particles responsible can be inhaled when they become airborne (see article at tinyurl.com/zqj3nyt).

Smoking is an addiction with sticky tentacles in many aspects of our health and well-being, not to mention our pocketbooks. We become addicted not only to the chemicals in the smoke, but also to the act of smoking and the behavior adjustments it requires. All this makes it oh-so-difficult to quit, especially if you remain among others who have yet to pull the plug. I have great respect for anyone who has been able to successfully cast aside this dark force affecting their health, and the health of those around them.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.