Facts about air pollution caused by smoking

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Facts about air pollution caused by smoking
Giving up smoking improves health within half an hour. (Ref 2 p 13) (Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Air pollution caused by smoking is responsible for ill health in smokers and non-smokers alike, causing heart disease, lung cancer and many other illnesses. Cigarette smoke contains tiny particles harmful to our lungs and over 4,000 chemicals, many dangerous to human health. Smoking in most public indoor spaces was banned in the UK in 2007, but air pollution from smoking at home still causes illness, especially in children.


Smoke contains tiny particles that embed in lungs, causing cancer and other ill-health effects. Scientists from the National Cancer Institute in Milan found in 2004 that cigarette smoke contains 10 times more particles than modern diesel engine exhaust, and more of the smallest, most dangerous kind that penetrate deep into lung tissue. The study looked at cigarette smoke in an enclosed space, but Ivan Vince, a British air pollution expert who reviewed the study, stated that particles also affect the external environment.


Secondhand smoke includes exhaled smoke and smoke from cigarette tips. Cigarette tip smoke is unfiltered, making it more toxic. Smoke pollutes the air with than 69 cancer-causing chemicals, including tar, arsenic, benzene and cadmium. Benzene is an industrial solvent and cadmium is used in batteries. Cigarette smoke also contains chemicals used in mortuaries, rubber and paint manufacturing, and a former chemical weapon ingredient. Blowing or waving away smoke doesn't offer protection as it's 85 per cent invisible and odourless.


Ninety-five percent of deaths due to secondhand smoke are from air pollution at home. Breathing secondhand smoke increases lung cancer risk 24 percent and heart disease 25 percent. Unborn babies suffer ill effects when toxic chemicals pass into the womb. In households with smokers, cot death risk increases five times and babies up to one year old are more likely to go to hospital. Children suffer more middle-ear infections, breathing problems and asthma.

Avoiding secondhand smoke

In the UK, smoking is banned in workplaces, pubs, clubs and restaurants, but people are still at risk at home, in cars and taxis, and from friends and strangers smoking around them, known as passive smoking. Avoiding air pollution from smoking means using smoke-free taxis, and asking visitors to smoke outside or before getting in your car. Benefits to giving up smoking include immediate better health, reduced long-term risk of serious disease and saving money.

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