Avoiding smoky environments could protect your heart

Is passive smoking worse than smoking?

Avoiding smoky environments could protect your heart
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Smoke is a complex mixture of small particles and gases. The small particles can cause itchy eyes, a sore throat, a runny nose, and coughing. For healthy adults, these effects usually disappear quickly once they move away from the smoky conditions.

People with heart or respiratory conditions (including asthma) are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in smoke. Thus, in a new study presented today at EuroHeartCare 2019, scientists urged everyone to avoid smoky environments to protect the heart.

Study author Professor Byung Jin Kim, of Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, Republic of Korea said, “Our study in non-smokers shows that the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) is higher with longer duration of passive smoking – but even the lowest amounts are dangerous.”

Passive smoking also referred to as second-hand smoke, can cause premature death in non-smokers. Passive smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease by 25-40% – almost the same level as a smoker. Second-hand smoke contains more than 7000 chemicals, with 69 cancer-causing chemicals. There is no known safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke.

Moreover, the study found that passive smoking was linked with a 13% increased risk of hypertension. Living with a smoker after age 20 was related with a 15% more serious hazard. Exposure to passive smoking for a long time or more was identified with a 17% increased danger of hypertension. Both men and women were similarly affected.

Participants with hypertension were significantly more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work (27.9%) than those with normal blood pressure (22.6%). Hypertension was significantly more common in people exposed to passive smoke at home or work (7.2%) compared to no exposure (5.5%).

High blood pressure is the leading global cause of premature death, accounting for almost ten million deaths in 2015, and those affected are advised to quit smoking.

Past studies only suggested the association between passive smoking and hypertension in non-smokers. But, most of those studies were limited to small scale, means restricted to women, and relied on self-reported questionnaires in which respondents typically over-report never-smoking.

This new study is the first large study that accesses the association between secondhand smoke and hypertension in 131,739 never-smokers (one-third men, and an average age of 35 years). For this study, scientists verified participants by testing their urinary levels of cotinine, the principal metabolite of nicotine.

Kim said, “The results suggest that it is necessary to keep completely away from secondhand smoke, not just reduce exposure, to protect against hypertension. While efforts have been made around the world to minimize the dangers of passive smoking by expanding no smoking areas in public places, our study shows that more than one in five never-smokers are still exposed to secondhand smoke.”

“Stricter smoking bans are needed, together with more help for smokers to kick the habit. Knowing that family members suffer should be extra motivation for smokers to quit.”