What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke comes from two sources: the smoke exhaled by a smoker, and the smoke given off by the actual cigarette as it burns. Inhaling secondhand smoke is also called passive or involuntary smoking. Like Reeves, approximately 10 percent of men and 20 percent of women with lung cancer never smoked. Unfortunately, experts estimate that secondhand smoke causes at least 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually.

Inhaling smoke decreases our immunity and therefore our body's ability to fight disease. Furthermore, secondhand smoke causes genes implicated in cancer development to increase, and genes that regulate tumor suppression to decrease.

Does secondhand smoke cause cancer?

The answer is an unequivocal yes. Secondhand smoke is a well-documented cause of lung cancer and is linked to other cancers as well.

Here are a few frightening statistics:

  • Living with a smoker increases a nonsmoker's risk of lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.
  • According to the American Lung Association, the level of secondhand smoke in restaurants and bars is two to five times higher than residences with smokers, and two to six times higher than offices with smokers.
  • In addition to cancer, secondhand smoke irritates airways and is harmful to our heart and blood vessels.

Fortunately, as local, state and national governments pass laws prohibiting smoking in public places, non-smokers' exposure to secondhand smoke should decrease significantly.

What about children?

Many children are the victims of secondhand smoke. Sadly, most are powerless to do anything about it.

About 21 million children in the United States live in homes with residents or visitors who smoke regularly, and 50 to 70 percent of children have high levels of a nicotine by-product in their bodies.

Secondhand smoke slows the growth of children's lungs and may increase a child's risk for lymphoma, brain tumors, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, ear infections and other lung diseases.

Babies born to smoking mothers have high levels of carcinogens found in smoke and secondhand smoke may increase a child's risk later in life of developing smoking-related cancers.

If you smoke, you are not just increasing your own risk for cancer and other deadly diseases; you are putting your loved ones at risk as well.