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Can Secondhand Smoke Cause Lung Cancer?

Do you have a close friend or family member who smokes? If the answer is yes, then you may be exposed to secondhand smoke. If you are near someone smoking, then you are likely inhaling the smoke and being exposed to the same harmful tobacco as the smoker.

“Secondhand smoke is a serious environmental hazard harming both children and adults alike,” said Dr. Ala Eddin Sagar, interventional pulmonologist at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert, Arizona. We spoke with Dr. Sagar to discuss the risks from secondhand smoke.

“Exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to ear infections, severe respiratory infections, asthma and harm to the heart and blood vessels. It can also increase the risk of lung cancer.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that secondhand smoke exposure has led to the deaths of about 2.5 million nonsmokers in the last half century.

Can Secondhand Smoke Cause Lung Cancer?

Most people associate lung cancer with smokers. But, being near someone who smokes, and breathing in their tobacco smoke, can also cause lung cancer in nonsmokers. There are about 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke and studies have shown that about 150 of these are dangerous carcinogens or chemicals.

According to Dr. Sagar, while it may be in a slightly lower concentration, “secondhand smokers are inhaling the same harmful substances that smokers do,” and are at an increased risk of developing lung cancer and other illnesses caused by tobacco smoke. The CDC estimates that lung cancer kills more than 150,000 people in the U.S. each year, and that lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke causes nearly 3,400 nonsmoker deaths per year. 

How to Protect Yourself from Secondhand Smoke

The best thing you can do is to avoid secondhand smoke. “Encourage family members and friends who smoke to quit and ask smokers around you to smoke outside the house,” said Dr. Sagar. He also suggested seeking out restaurants, hotels and shops that are tobacco-free.

It’s also important to be aware of smoking dangers that can linger around your house. These effects even have their own name: thirdhand smoke. Even if your loved one quits, harmful residue from smoking can still be found in your home. To protect yourself and your family, consider:

  • Having the fabrics in your home – curtains, rugs, blankets – cleaned or replaced.
  • Professionally cleaning your carpets and upholstery to rid them of the harmful toxins from smoking.
  • Having your air ducts cleaned and replacing your air conditioning filters.
  • Cleaning the walls and ceilings in your home or having them repainted.

If you’ve been exposed to secondhand smoke, evaluate your risk with the help of a Banner physician.

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