The health risks of secondhand smoke
Archie Modequillo (The Freeman) - November 18, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — Tobacco smokers in the Philippines are said to total 17.3 million, comprising 28.3 percent of the population. That translates to a lot of smoke, enough to poison the nation. And yet people do not seem to be alarmed; cigarette sales are still able to keep the tobacco business going despite tightening government regulation. 

Among the ten member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Philippines ranks second in number of smokers, and has the highest number of female smokers. The World Health Organization estimates that 10 Filipinos die every hour due to cancer, stroke, lung and heart diseases brought on by cigarette smoking. But do smokers care?

What’s worse, it’s very hard for anyone to escape the health risks of smoking. Even non-smokers are at risk – because they can still be exposed to secondhand smoke that comes from someone else puffing out smoke while smoking or from a burning cigarette, cigar, or pipe. Just being around where there is tobacco smoke can pose more or less the same health risks for smokers and non-smokers alike.

There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Even brief moments around secondhand smoke can cause harm to a person’s health. And the possibility of contracting health problems increases with more exposure.

Tobacco smoke has many harmful substances including benzopyrene, lead, carbon monoxide, arsenic, ammonia, formaldehyde, and a certain type of cyanide. Many of these substances travel through the air into the lungs and bloodstream, thereby increasing a person’s risk of disease. Most of the time, non-smokers are never aware that they’re inhaling tobacco smoke floating in the air because they’re too confident about their not smoking.

It is estimated that a home with a person who smokes increases the chance of lung cancer for everybody in the family by 20 to 30 percent. Research also suggests that secondhand smoke exposure may increase the risk of other cancers by at least 30 percent. These include cervical cancer, kidney cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, rectal cancer, and brain tumors.

Secondhand smoke also causes other health problems, including asthma and heart disease. Those who have a higher risk of harmful health effects from secondhand smoke are pregnant women, children, and older adults.

Health experts at the website point out that secondhand smoke is especially unsafe for babies and young children whose bodies and lungs are still developing. Children exposed to secondhand smoke have a higher risk of ear infections, asthma attacks, lung infections (such as bronchitis and pneumonia), coughing and wheezing, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and also people with breathing conditions or heart disease.

Exposure to secondhand smoke causes lung inflammation and lowers levels of important vitamins right away. These effects can increase a person’s likelihood of developing health problems.

Research also shows other links between secondhand smoke and child wellbeing. Examples include increased risk of mental health issues and learning problems, and increased risk of children starting to smoke. They may ‘acquire’ the taste for the smoke that they have been unwittingly inhaling.

It is erroneous to think that opening a window or using a fan when someone smokes spares non-smokers from secondhand smoke exposure. Toxins from smoke do not go away, according to several studies. The smoke remains in hair, clothes, carpets, and furniture; these stuck toxins are often called “thirdhand smoke.”

The only way to prevent exposure is to avoid places where smoking occurs, particularly inside.

The website shares ideas for protecting the whole family from secondhand smoke:

• If you smoke, quit. There are many resources to help you. Talk with your health care provider about the best options for you.

• Do not smoke or allow people to smoke in your house or car. Ask people who smoke to step outside.

• Find smoke-free restaurants, hotels, and rental cars.

• Ask visitors in your home – whether caregivers or relatives – to stop smoking around you and your children.

• Assert smoke-free laws as much as possible.


Smoke-free workplace laws have helped lessen exposure to secondhand smoke and the related health problems.

In the Philippines now, laws have been passed banning smoking in public places, and encouraging employers to ban smoking in the workplace. Republic Act No. 9211, otherwise known as the “Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003,” makes it unlawful in the country for any person under the age of 18 years to purchase, sell or smoke tobacco products. Ironically, a survey conducted by the Department of Health has found that children as young as five years old are already starting to smoke. But the country’s Tobacco Regulation Act – which also implements certain restrictions and bans on tobacco-related advertisements, sponsorships, and packaging – is believed to work overall.

But government regulation can only go so far. People should also do their part. After all, it is their very health at stake.

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