For some people, a smoke-filled room simply ruins the taste and smell of food. In crowded restaurants, for example, smoking can produce six the pollution of a busy highway. Smoke can cause reddening, itching and watering of the eyes, wheezing and coughing. A mere 30 minute exposure can cause the blood flow through the heart to be significantly reduced (BBC News Online). These are annoying but minor problems compared with the heart attacks and lung cancer.
According Action on Smoking and Health, a UK-based anti-smoking research organization, over 96 million Americans have chronic health conditions that make them especially susceptible to tobacco smoke. In short, smoke-filled air is not only gross; it is dangerous. A better way to put it may be: Cigarette smoke in the air is both dangerously gross and grossly dangerous. Still, it does not affect all equally. The specific effects of passive smoking on individuals depend on the health condition of each person.
Healthy individuals who are endowed with robust natural immunity would naturally do better at warding off the ill effects of inhaling other people’s smoke than unhealthy frail individuals. However, no one is perfectly immune, especially under conditions of serious exposure. A group that is particularly at risk is children. Many children whose parents smoke are concerned about their parents and the smoke to which their young brothers and sisters are exposed.
Secondhand smoke can increase the number of episodes and severity of asthma attacks in children experiencing such problems. It causes several hundred thousand lung infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, in babies and children each year. Household “passive smoking,” as it is called, results in hundreds of thousands of cases of bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections, and worsened asthma in children. (Christopher 127) Because children’s bodies are delicate and still growing, they are affected most by poisons in secondhand smoke.
Secondhand smoke is especially harmful to young lungs, making them more vulnerable to infections, and contributing to ear infections. Thousands of children under 5 in the US and the UK are hospitalized each year of chest infections related to parents’ smoking. Childhood asthma is more common and asthma attacks are more frequent and severe for children exposed to tobacco smoke. Secondhand smoke is even considered risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or cot death in babies (Britton 2).
Researchers have found higher concentrations of nicotine in the lungs of babies who died of SIDS than in babies who died from other causes. As they mature, the children of smoking parents may have more respiratory infections; often their lung function is less well developed. A Yale university study suggested that 17 percent of all lung cancer among people who never smoke may be blamed on early exposure to smoke in the home. According to some studies, being around people who are smoking also can increase a woman’s risk of contracting breast cancer.