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How Dangerous is Outdoor Second-Hand Smoke?

smoking, outdoorsIndoor smoking bans have forced smokers at bars and restaurants onto outdoor patios, but a new study suggests that these outdoor smoking areas might be creating a new health hazard.

The study, thought to be the first to assess levels of a nicotine byproduct known as cotinine in nonsmokers exposed to second-hand smoke outdoors, found levels up to 162 percent greater than in the control group.

Secondhand smoke contains several known carcinogens, and there may be no safe level of exposure.

Cigarettes are also "widely contaminated" with bacteria, including some known to cause disease in people, according to a new international study.

The research team describes the study as the first to show that cigarettes could be the direct source of exposure to a wide array of potentially pathogenic microbes among smokers and people exposed to secondhand smoke.

Bacteria of medical significance to humans were identified in all of the tested cigarettes and included:

  • Acinetobacter (associated with lung and blood infections)
  • Bacillus (some varieties associated with food-borne illnesses and anthrax)
  • Burkholderia (some forms responsible for respiratory infections)
  • Clostridium (associated with food-borne illnesses and lung infections)
  • Klebsiella (associated with a variety of lung, blood and other infections)
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa (an organism that causes 10 percent of all hospital-acquired infections in the United States)
Dr. Mercola's Comments:

It’s always best to avoid cancer-causing substances, so hanging out near an outdoor smoking area, where the air and any furniture upholstery is virtually guaranteed to be laced with carcinogenic substances, is not a great idea.

Most people can avoid this by staying in non-smoking areas or only visiting locales that are 100 percent smoke-free. For the people who work there, however, exposure to second-hand smoke, even outdoors, becomes an occupational health hazard.

The first study found an increase in cotinine (a marker of tobacco exposure) of 162 percent for the volunteers stationed at outdoor seating and standing areas at bars, and a 102 percent increase for those outside of restaurants, after a six-hour period.

So the exposure appears to be significant for workers.

If you work in a smoke-filled environment of any kind, I highly recommend washing your clothes and hair right after you come home from work to avoid spreading the contaminants around your home and inhaling traces of them longer than necessary.

What Types of Toxins are in Cigarette Smoke?

When cigarettes are burned they create more than 4,000 chemicals, at least 50 of which are known to cause cancer.

To give you an idea of the types of toxic chemicals released into the air (and your lungs) when you smoke or are around someone who does, here’s a list from the American Lung Association of a few chemicals in tobacco smoke, and other places they are found:

  • Acetone – found in nail polish remover
  • Acetic Acid – an ingredient in hair dye
  • Ammonia – a common household cleaner
  • Arsenic – used in rat poison
  • Benzene – found in rubber cement
  • Butane – used in lighter fluid
  • Cadmium – active component in battery acid
  • Carbon Monoxide – released in car exhaust fumes
  • Formaldehyde – embalming fluid
  • Hexamine – found in barbecue lighter fluid
  • Lead – used in batteries
  • Napthalene – an ingredient in moth balls
  • Methanol – a main component in rocket fuel
  • Nicotine – used as insecticide
  • Tar – material for paving roads
  • Toluene - used to manufacture paint

How Serious are the Risks of Second-Hand Smoke?

By now most everyone is aware of the risks of second-hand smoke. Children who grow up with smokers in their homes are three times more likely to develop lung cancer in their later years than those children who come from non-smoking homes.

And children who breathe second-hand smoke are more likely to suffer from pneumonia, bronchitis and other lung diseases, while those who have asthma and who breathe second-hand smoke have more asthma attacks.

Second-hand smoke also accounts for as many as one-quarter of cases of lung cancer in non-smokers.

In the United States, nearly 24 percent of men and 18 percent of women are smokers, according to the latest Trends in Tobacco Use report by the American Heart Association. And while I suspect that many of you who read this newsletter don’t smoke, you likely have a loved one who does.

Every year in the U.S. over 392,000 people die from tobacco-caused disease, and 50,000 people die from exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the American Lung Association.

Further, an estimated 70 percent of smokers say they would like to quit, which would be a wise choice considering the many health risks involved. Statistics estimate that adult smokers shorten their lives by an average of 14 years, and due to second- and third-hand smoke may shorten the lives of those around them as well.

What is Third-Hand Smoke?

Third-hand smoke exists in the form of toxic particles clinging to hair, clothing, carpeting and other materials inside your home, and it can indeed contribute to your body’s toxic load.

Particulate matter from tobacco smoke has been proven toxic. It contains 250 poisonous gases, chemicals, and metals -- include hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, butane, ammonia, toluene, arsenic, lead, chromium, cadmium, and polonium-210 (a highly radioactive carcinogen).

Small children may be especially susceptible to third-hand smoke exposure because they crawl and play on potentially contaminated surfaces such as cushions, carpets and the floor. The toxins can get on their hands and can then be ingested.

I suspect that the risks of third-hand smoke are significant, yet will be much harder to pinpoint and actually link to certain diseases.

Are Cigarettes Also Contaminated?

Aside from the risk of the cigarettes themselves are the potentially infectious bacteria they may contain. The second study above found that cigarettes are "widely contaminated" with bacteria, including some known to cause disease in people.

This may explain why smokers’ respiratory tracts tend to contain higher levels of disease-causing bacteria. Of course, this may also be a symptom caused by weakened immunity, which is also common in smokers.

Kicking the Smoking Habit

If you smoke, please realize that your family will also be exposed to the toxins in your cigarettes. And while we are all being bombarded with toxins everyday, the more you do to lower your exposure -- and theirs -- the better.

So quitting smoking is certainly a wise choice. But there are a couple of important points you should know before you do.
First, whatever you do, please do not make the mistake of resorting to pharmaceutical “quit-smoking drugs” like Chantix, Zyban, Wellbutrin and others. Like all drugs, they come with a wide variety of side effects that are harmful to your health, but these types of drugs in particular also carry much higher risks of depression, violence and suicide.

Chantix is especially toxic and dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. There is absolutely no reason to risk your life to become a non-smoker when there are more effective, all natural ways to overcome your nicotine addiction.

Next, get your nutritional program on track first, then tackle the cigarettes.

Get Your Diet Right BEFORE You Stop Smoking

In my experience there is a great deal of confusion surrounding aggressive stop-smoking recommendations. Most experts advise this as a primary prevention recommendation and pay little attention to one’s diet.

This is unfortunate, as when most people stop smoking they tend to reward themselves with bad food choices as a substitute for their cigarette addiction. As a result they can cause more damage to their health from their poor food choices than if they had continued to smoke

I also have some other controversial opinions regarding smoking, as I firmly believe that a French fry is actually more dangerous to your health than one cigarette. Also, most of the damage from smoking might actually be due to the fact that the tobacco is not organic and therefore is loaded with toxic pesticides. When you volatilize these by lighting the cigarette, these chemicals can cause far more damage than the actual tobacco.

So if you are going to smoke it would be best to use organic cigarettes that are free from toxic chemicals and pesticides.

Additional Recommendations

Eat for your nutritional type, eliminate sugar and grains, and make sure to consume adequate amounts of omega-3 fats. These three powerful steps in the right direction will put you well on your way to good health.

Then, the best and safest way to quit smoking is cold turkey. Research shows that in the long run, smokers who quit cold turkey do better than those who used “help” like nicotine gum, the patch, drugs or even just trying to cut back.

The dietary improvements mentioned above will go a long way toward helping you give up nicotine. Good nutrition will minimize feelings of depression you may encounter when you quit smoking and make it less likely that you’ll turn to unhealthy foods as a “reward.”

And you’ll feel healthier in general, which can help motivate you to stick with your goal to stop smoking.

If depression does become an issue, I highly recommend you read my free online Meridian Tapping Technique manual to discover how this remarkable psychological acupressure technique is ideal for eliminating addictions -- particularly cigarette addiction, which has been shown to be associated with depression.

If the Meridian Tapping Technique doesn’t appeal to you, then feel free to research and experiment with any of the myriad of natural methods available to help smokers quit.