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Secondhand smoke is a dangerous carcinogen that comes from a lit cigarette or cigar. Instead of being directly inhaled by the smoker, it is released into the atmosphere around the smoker, and inhaled by anyone standing or sitting nearby. It can linger in a room for hours after the cigarette has been put out and the smoker has left the area.
It is estimated that secondhand smoke is responsible for over four million deaths a year worldwide. It also causes billions of dollars in medical costs, for hospital stays, doctor's visits, and medical equipment. In the United States alone, the estimated cost is more than six billion US dollars yearly, an expense covered through higher insurance premiums and taxes for everyone, whether they smoke or not.
The danger of secondhand smoke is in the ingredients of the cigarette. When the cigarette is burned, those poisons are released into the air. Formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide are only a few of the chemicals found in cigarettes. Hydrogen cyanide was the main ingredient in Zyklon B, a poisonous gas used during World War II. Many of the ingredients in cigarettes are dangerous, and have been proven to cause cancer or other health problems.
Smoking is dangerous, but smokers can choose to smoke filtered cigarettes, which will at least reduce the amount of chemicals they are breathing in. Secondhand smoke is not filtered. The smoke, and all of the dangerous chemicals, can spread through the air to anyone who has the misfortune of standing nearby. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has classified secondhand smoke as a "known human carcinogen," with over 60 dangerous, cancer-causing chemicals inside each cigarette. These chemicals, amongst others, are also the cause of the numerous other health problems associated with secondhand smoke.
The two most common deadly conditions caused by secondhand smoke are lung cancer and heart disease. It can also lead to respiratory infections, asthma, emphysema, and a decrease in overall health. Children are especially susceptible to the effects of secondhand smoke; it is responsible for thousands of cases of pneumonia and bronchitis in children under two every year and has also been linked to SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome. It can also cause damage to the lining of blood vessels and sticky platelets.
There are several countries throughout the world that have introduced smoking bands, making it illegal to smoke in public places, including restaurants, workplaces, and bars. This ban is a great start to reducing the effect that secondhand smoke has on nonsmokers, but it does not take away the risk to the children and family members of smokers. Smoking around others, whether in public or in a private residence, can lead to long-term health complications, even death.