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Posted: July 31, 2009

Keeping Seniors Healthy

Secondhand Smoke and Caregiving

Q. I’m a 40-year-old nonsmoker and live with and care for my aging father who smokes like the proverbial chimney around the house. I’m afraid of what it’s doing to his health and mine. What can I do to get him to quit?

A. Tell him he may be killing himself by smoking – and you with his secondhand smoke. It’s as simple and serious as that.

Secondhand smoke -- also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) -- is made up of the “sidestream” smoke from the end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, and the “mainstream” smoke that is exhaled.

Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke absorb the same 4,000 chemical compounds that smokers do. More than 60 of these compounds are known or suspected to cause cancer.

Each year, in the United States alone, secondhand smoke is responsible for about 40,000 deaths from heart disease, and about 3,000 lung-cancer deaths,

Secondhand smoke causes increased cardiovascular risks by damaging blood vessels, decreasing your ability to exercise and altering blood cholesterol levels.

Some research indicates that people exposed to a spouse's cigarette smoke for several decades are about 20% more likely to have lung cancer. Those who are exposed long-term to secondhand smoke in the workplace or social settings may increase their risk of lung cancer by about 25%.

Some of the components found in tobacco smoke that are known to cause cancer or are suspected to be carcinogenic include: formaldehyde, arsenic, cadmium, benzene and ethylene oxide.

Here are a few other chemicals in tobacco smoke along with their effects: ammonia (irritates lungs), carbon monoxide (hampers breathing), methanol (toxic when inhaled) and hydrogen cyanide (interferes with respiration).

Throughout the world, governments are taking action against smoking in public places, both indoors and outdoors. Smoking is either banned or restricted in public transportation. Several local communities have enacted nonsmokers’ rights laws, most of which are stricter than state laws.

Although air-conditioning may remove the visible smoke in your home, it can't remove the particles that continue to circulate and are hazardous to your health, so don’t delude yourself that running the AC is the answer to secondhand smoke dangers.

To solve your problem, you should try to get your father to seek help in fighting his addiction to nicotine. There are many programs available.  Call your doctor for some recommendations. Meanwhile, for your own health, you should insist that he not smoke in the house.


Fred Cicetti is a freelance writer who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey. He has written two published novels: Saltwater Taffy, and Local Angles. You can send your health-related questions to Fred at fred@healthygeezer.com.

© 2009 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.
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