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How Common is Death from Second Hand Smoke?

Death from second hand smoke is a common risk to people who live with smokers, or who frequent public areas where smokers gather. It is estimated that 53,800 people die from second hand inhalation each year. Breast cancer, heart disease, and many other illnesses that may lead to death often affect non-smokers who live with smokers, though it is not always clear exactly to what degree second-hand smoke contributes to these conditions in any given person.

As one experiences second hand smoke, he or she is exposed to over 4,000 different chemicals. Of these, at least 60 are known to cause cancer, and 200 are considered poisonous to humans, such as hydrogen-cyanide and arsenic. These toxins result in many different detrimental health conditions, from asthma to lung cancer. In addition to a higher cancer risk, one's cardiovascular risks increase by up to 30 percent when exposed to second hand smoke.

In infants and children, death from second hand smoke can result due to conditions such as sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, and prematurity. While death from second hand smoke may not affect all children exposed to smoke, several other health conditions are commonly caused by the contact. Thousands of cases of breathing problems in children, such as sinus infections and bronchitis, are thought to be directly caused by second hand smoke every year. Many middle ear infections of children are also caused by second hand smoke.

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Two different types of second hand smoke exist. Also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) or passive smoke, second hand smoke can be either mainstream, which is exhaled by smokers, or sidestream, which is given off as the tobacco product burns. Both of these types of second hand smoke can be detrimental to one's health. No level of second hand smoke is considered safe or healthy for humans. Death from second hand smoke can also be a result of illnesses acquired on account of exposure, such as pneumonia.

Many other averse smoking health hazards are possible through second hand inhalation. Health experts estimate that only 15 percent of each cigarette affects the smoker inhaling it; the rest of the smoke and its toxins are breathed in by the people in the smoker's surrounding environment. It is estimated that spending time in a room of smoke for two hours results in the same effects as smoking four cigarettes. Due to the risks that are associated with second hand smoke, many public establishments are enforcing smoke-free rules.

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