Passive smoking, secondhand smoking (SHS), or environmental tobacco smoking (ETS) refers to the inhalation of tobacco smoke in the air by people other than the intended smoker.
This smoke is a mixture of mainstream smoke (i.e., the smoke exhaled by the smoker) and sidestream smoke (i.e., smoke from the burning tip of a cigarette).
Like firsthand smoking, passive smoking also causes severe health issues, including lung cancer. According to an estimate in the United States, during the years 2005-2009, passive smoking caused more than 7,300 lung cancer deaths among adult non-smokers each year. Furthermore, exposure to secondhand smoke irritates the airways and has immediate harmful effects on a passive smoker’s heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart diseases by around 25 to 30%.
In children, exposure to secondhand smoke amplifies the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, ear infections, colds, pneumonia, bronchitis, and more severe asthma.
It is also known for slowing down the growth of children’s lungs and can cause them to cough, wheeze, and feel breathless. (Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.Although ventilation can reduce the risks associated with passive smoking, they can still not be curbed completely.
To combat that, several policies restricting smoking in public places are followed all around the world. According to the Pakistan Demographic Health Survey, 46 percent of men and 5.7 percent of women smoke tobacco.
Although smoking in public places is banned in Pakistan, the implementation of these rules and regulations has been ineffective, according to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey. With such a high risk for non-smokers, it is the government’s responsibility to educate the public about the potential harm caused by smoking to those who choose not to smoke and to protect them.
One of the ways this can be done is by raising awareness among smokers about smoke-free alternatives and encouragingthem to shift to those if they cannot quit altogether. Smoke-free alternatives such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco devices do not burn tobacco and instead emit vapor or aerosols, hence eliminating the harm caused by smoke. Although not risk-free, these products are less harmful and, thus, a better alternative for both smokers and non-smokers.
One might argue that these alternatives should not be promoted as they are still detrimental to health; however, it is to note that secondhand smoke is highly unfair to those who choose not to smoke. Although smoking depends on a person’s free will, they should not be allowed to infringe others’ right to breathe in a safe environment. Freedom does not justify harming others.
In a situation where tobacco cessation cannot be achieved completely, the government should take a harm reduction approach and raise awareness among adult smokers to at least shift to these scientifically substantiated alternatives for the sake of their health and that of the non-smokers around them. Sources Secondhand Smoke and Cancer-NCI.