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Effects of second-hand smoke

By Dumase Gzambo Mapemba and Chimwemwe Ngoma

As published in the Malawi News on 15 September, 2018

“Second-hand Smoke (SHS) is one of the most important and most widespread exposures in the indoors environment. The link between secondhand smoke and several health outcomes such as respiratory infections, heart diseases, lung cancer and asthma have long been established” reads the Global Health Observatory (GHO) data by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The moment one takes a cigarette to light it in presence of others, they should think about the above findings.

As a non-smoker, should you celebrate that you are exempted from the negative health consequences arising from inhaling tobacco smoke? Certainly not! The health effects of secondhand smoke are quiet similar to those of direct smoking. Research shows that there are more than 4000 chemical substances in tobacco smoke, of which at least 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause various cancers.

It is sad to observe that Malawi does not have smoke free zones, our public spaces including stadiums, streets, parks, depots and homes are now and again polluted with tobacco smoke, not only does the smoke produce a choking and irritating smell; it puts the health of non-smokers and children at risk.

In adult non-smokers, second-hand smoke can cause serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including coronary heart disease and lung cancer, non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke inhale many of the same cancer-causing substances.

Children are at greatest risk and are primary victims of second hand smoke, children who inhale secondhand smoke are likely to get more frequent and severe asthma attacks, coughs, bronchitis, pneumonia and ear infections. Heads up parents! Know that if your children are exposed to tobacco smoke, these cases are not a mare coincidence.

No matter the amount inhaled, secondhand smoke is dangerous, we need to de-normalize the habit of public smoking, and smokers need to be mindful of the health of others.

Here is a quick takeaway on how you can protect yourself and your families from secondhand smoke; firstly, do not allow anyone to smoke anywhere in or near your home. Secondly, do not allow anyone to smoke in your car, even with the window down. Thirdly, make sure your children’s day care centers and schools are tobacco-free. Lastly, look for restaurants and other places that do not allow smoking.

It is our responsibility and our right to ask a smoker to put off their cigarettes in public places or simply in our presence. It is not okay for one to smoke in our presence even if they politely ask to do so. The health implications of being polite or understanding smoking behavior can cost our lives and that of our beloved ones; it is up to us to put an end to the behavior.

Just as this column has appealed to the government in our of the entries on tobacco, there is need for a deliberate effort to ban smoking in public places; hence minimize the effects of second hand smoke like lung cancer and asthma.

Malawi being a country whose economy highly depends on tobacco exporting tobacco may find this complicated. However, the health of its citizens is paramount as it is the health of the citizens that drive the economy. It is imperative that find an alternative “gold” to ensure that export proceeds revives our ailing economy. If we could concentrate on cotton, tea, coffee we would not be reluctant to implement WHO’s anti tobacco policies.

We would have been one of the role models in the world. It is our prayer that we will do something about second-hand smoking.

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