Dangerous Smoke

September 29, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
For years, United States health agencies have issued warnings about the dangers of secondhand smoke. Now, for the first time, researchers say they have hard evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke causes changes in the lungs."I'm a pack-a-day, solid pack-a-day smoker," 47-year-old Kathy Smith told Ivanhoe. Smith has been smoking for most of her adult life. She's also been trying to quit for almost that long -- for her sake and the health of her three kids. "They are worried about what it's doing to me," she says. "They're worried about what it's doing to them."

We've all heard secondhand smoke can hurt our lungs, but now there's proof. For the first time, researchers are able to see the damage. In a clinical study, smokers and nonsmokers inhaled a special helium mixture before having an MRI scan. The machine measured the movement of the helium atoms and spotted lung damage. In the images, healthy parts are red, while damage shows up in yellow. The lung of a nonsmoker, who had a high level of exposure to smoke, shows a significant amount of yellow compared to a nonsmoker. Researchers found almost one-third of these nonsmokers had damage to their lungs similar to that of smokers.

"We've shown that secondhand smoke does have the potential to damage the lungs, and so, for smokers, you're really not just hurting yourself," Talissa Altes, M.D., an associate Professor of Radiology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, told Ivanhoe. "You are hurting the people around you and the people you love."

Exposure to secondhand smoke has been linked to asthma, ear infections, pneumonia and Sudden Infant Death in children. In adults, it increases the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, blood clots and stroke. This new study is the first to prove secondhand smoke damages the lungs. "I don't even need that information to feel bad about my habit," Smith says. For people like Smith, it's another reason to try to kick the habit again.

To minimize your risk of secondhand smoke, never let anyone smoke inside your house or car. If someone in your home does smoke, consider using an air purifier and remember to clean and re-paint walls and surfaces frequently.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Talissa Altes, MD
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA
Taa2c@virginia.edu
www.lungusa.org


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