Ahead of World No Tobacco Day on May 31, the World Health Organisation (WHO) posted some alarming data on their website.
"The global tobacco epidemic kills nearly six million people each year, of which more than 6,00,000 are non-smokers dying from breathing second-hand smoke," it said.
This means that non-smokers constitute one out of every 10 tobacco-related deaths. While we are aware of the risks that smoking brings with it, few know how dangerous even passive smoking can be.
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Worse than smoking
"The fume that burns off the end of a cigarette or cigar actually contains more harmful substances than the smoke inhaled by the smoker, as there is no filter through which it passes.
The particles are also smaller, which allows them to stay longer in the air and go deeper into your lungs," says Dr (Col) SP Rai, consultant in pulmonary medicine at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital And Medical Research Institute, Andheri (W).
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Second-hand smoke is also responsible for a variety of disorders such as lung cancer, cardiac ailments and chronic respiratory illnesses like bronchial asthma, chronic bronchitis, allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to Dr Nilesh Lokeshwar, medical oncology, Global Hospitals, Parel.
Spouses of smokers and those exposed to workplace smoking are at risk of catching these illnesses. Women and children are also more vulnerable.
"Children's bodies are in the developing stage, so exposure to the poisons from second-hand smoke puts them at risk of severe respiratory diseases and can affect the growth of their lungs," says Dr Indoo Ambulkar, consultant medical oncologist at Seven Hills Hospital, Andheri (E).
In kids, inhaling smoke is a known cause of low birth weight, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and ear infections.
Pregnant women need to be especially careful.
"Smoke exposure during pregnancy increases the risk for placenta previa (low lying placenta), placental abruption (a medical emergency), as well as miscarriage, stillbirth and ectopic pregnancy," says Dr Rai.
Kick the butt
If you're a light or social smoker, you're still not immune to any of these risks.
"Non-daily or social smokers are more stressed than non-smokers. Social smokers experience more frequent coughs and shortness of breath. Smoking, but not inhaling the tobacco smoke, still significantly increases the risk of heart attacks," says Ambulkar. According to Dr Rai, even smoking as few as one to five days in a month can lead to more shortness of breath and coughing.
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Going cold turkey can be hard, but there are ways to reduce your dependence on nicotine. "The best way to quit is to have a strong resolve and determination. Nicotine patches and chewing gums can help you stop smoking," says Dr Shishir Shetty, consultant - surgical oncology, Wockhardt Hospital, Vashi.
Giving up smoking works differently for different people. It depends on the number of cigarettes you smoke and the circumstances you smoke them under. If you light up when you're at a party or social event, the likelihood of you quitting is higher.
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Dr Lokeshwar says it's important for you to be aware of withdrawal symptoms like irritability, insomnia, constipation, tremors and weight gain. However, stick to your resolve, make a pact with another smoker friend, join a support group or take up healthier hobbies such as exercise or going for a walk when you feel the urge, to give up for good.