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If you’ve never smoked in your life or gave up cigarettes recently, you can be forgiven for thinking that you are not at risk of diseases and the health issues that plague smokers. I don't smoke, so I should be fine, right?
Wrong. Unfortunately, due to inhaling secondhand or passive smoke, you can still be affected. Let’s take a look at the dangers attached to smoke inhalation and how you can protect yourself from harm.
What is Secondhand Smoke
Containing more than 7,000 chemicals, some of which are toxic, secondhand smoke consists of the smoke coming directly from the cigarette near you and the smoke being breathed out by the smoker. 1
With hundreds of these chemicals containing life-harming toxins, approximately 70 of which have been identified as cancer-causing or carcinogenic, you are breathing in a hazardous cocktail.
Even at low levels, breathing in this combination of deadly chemicals can do immense harm to your body. Over time, the effects of this harm become even more apparent through the manifestation of illness, and, in some tragic cases, leading to death.
It is estimated that over 2.5 million non-smoking adults have died in since 1964 as a result of breathing secondhand smoke, in the US alone. Even more shocking: it has been estimated that approximately 3,500 non-smoking Americans die each year from passive smoking. 2
Passive smoking has been held accountable for all sorts of health issues, from asthma and other respiratory illnesses, to stroke, heart disease and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Many cancers, including obvious ones such as throat and lung and not-so-obvious ones like breast and brain cancers , are connected to secondhand smoke. There is also a possible link to lymphomas, leukemia and liver cancer in children.
There is much evidence collected to indicate that these diseases can be brought on by exposure to chemicals such as ammonia, benzene, carbon monoxide, cyanide and formaldehyde, all found in cigarettes. 
These serious side effects of breathing in smoke-polluted air become more worrying when the exposure is continuous, but even short-term exposure can be severely damaging. But how can you avoid it?
Tips to Avoid Dangerous Air
Banning smoking in your home is a great starting place to reduce the risks of exposure to you and your family. If smokers visit, request that they smoke outside. The same applies to your car. Don't allow anyone to smoke in your vehicle as, like with all confined and enclosed spaces, the amount of smoke inhaled is intensified and potentially more dangerous.
As the world becomes more aware of the dangers of secondhand smoke, many countries are banning smoking in public buildings, the workplace and even some outdoor events, except in designated areas.
Ireland was the first country to bring in a nationwide ban on smoking in the workplace in 2004, including bars and restaurants with many countries following suit in the years since. Some countries have gone a step further and have brought in by-laws restricting smoking in any area where people gather.
The tiny kingdom of Bhutan, nestled in the Himalayan mountains between India and China, is the first country in the world to have a complete ban on smoking and indeed the sale of all tobacco products in 2010.
The US lags somewhat behind as it does not yet have national legislation on smoking in public places. Each state is responsible for their smoking laws and only 28 and the District of Columbia currently have bans on smoking in workplaces and public areas. At the moment, 22 states are considering or are in the process of implementing laws, some stricter than others.
Therefore, if you are going out for dinner, to see a band or enjoying a night in a casino, you may still be exposed to secondhand smoke. To try to protect yourself, find out the smoking policy of the venue you are going to in advance and if possible, book a table or seating in a non-smoking section. Check if the air conditioning is sufficient to extract smoke or opt for outdoor options to lessen the impact of smoking near you.
By choosing to patronize restaurants or bars with strong no-smoking policies, you reinforce to the owners that there is a whole wave of customers who prefer to enjoy their leisure time in a smoke-free environment. Until tighter laws come into effect, it is your own responsibility to protect yourself as much as possible in public.
In dentistry, we have been attempting smoking cessation programs with patients for many years. Dental hygienists are often the first ones to find abnormalities in the mouth due to smoking. The first thought was to have a discussion with the smoker about what can happen to them when they light up, but the conversation needs to be bigger. Informing patients about the concerns and long-term effects of secondhand smoke, even when they don’t smoke in the same area as their friends and family, will also be important. Though we never want to shame anyone while they are in the dental chair, the idea of secondhand smoke being a risk could help to create an emotional connection to the habit and encourage a decrease in their smoking habit or even cessation.
1 "Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke | CDC." https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/health_effects/index.htm. Accessed 19 Dec. 2019
2"Control of Secondhand Smoke Exposure - The ... - NCBI - NIH." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK44326/. Accessed 19 Dec. 2019.
3 "Health Risks of Secondhand Smoke - American Cancer Society." 13 Nov. 2015, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/tobacco-and-cancer/secondhand-smoke.html. Accessed 19 Dec. 2019.
4 "Secondhand smoke: Avoid dangers in the air - Mayo Clinic." https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/secondhand-smoke/art-20043914. Accessed 19 Dec. 2019.
5 "Smokefree Air Laws | American Lung Association." 8 Mar. 2019, https://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/tobacco/smokefree-environments/smokefree-air-laws.html. Accessed 19 Dec. 2019.