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Passive Smoking: On Whose Side Is the Responsibility?

24.09.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

“Recently I heard how a young man responded to an elderly woman’s request not to smoke at a bus stop: “Leave me alone, granny! It’s my personal thing!” The old woman sighed and walked away, murmuring something like “They are above the law.” I was brave enough to remind that guy of the law prohibiting smoking in public places, and that passive smoking is, in fact, more harmful than active smoking at times. The smoker laughed in response, rolled his eyes and threw a cigarette into the trash bin. The cigarette there continued to smolder and make an unpleasant smell until my bus came up”.

– Maria, a student

in cigarette smoke

In the situation described above, of course, the man was not right. And it is very good that our lady had enough courage and knowledge to defend her rights.
Thanks to the Federal Law dated 23.02.2013 No. 15-FZ “On the protection of citizens’ health from the effects of surrounding tobacco smoke and the consequences of tobacco consumption”, we increasingly rarely meet smokers in public places. But what if your friend or relative smokes, and you are constantly forced to inhale smoke or feel the smell of tobacco? And if a smoker is you, do you realize the harm that passive smoking brings to your loved ones?
In this article we talk how dangerous passive smoking is, why it is more harmful than active smoking and how it is possible to avoid harmful effects of tobacco smoke on the body.


  1. Passive smoking and its impact on human health
  2. Effect of passive smoking on the body of a pregnant woman
  3. Oncological diseases that can be caused by passive smoking
  4. Danger of passive smoking for children
  5. How to protect yourself from the harmful effects of cigarette smoke
  6. Quick solution to the problem: the 7Spsy behavior modification technique

Passive smoking and its impact on human health

cancer risk

The largest study of the effects of passive smoking on the human body was carried out by the World Health Organization in 2004 in 192 countries of the world. Globally, 40% of children, 33% of male non-smokers and 35% of female non-smokers were established to have negative health effects from passive smoking. Passive smoking provoked 379 thousand deaths from ischemic heart disease, 165 thousand from infection of the lower respiratory tract, 36.9 thousand from asthma and 21.4 thousand from lung cancer.

All countries were divided into five groups according to the mortality rate because of passive smoking among children and adults. Russia was in Group C, which is characterized by low mortality among children and high among adults. [1]

No matter how the statistics over the years have changed, one thing is clear: if a family has a smoker, he/she brings danger not only for own health but also for the health of the family members. The latter suffer more.

A smoker absorbs only 25% of the harmful substances contained in cigarettes. The rest goes to passive smokers – those who are forced to inhale smoke. That is why passive smoking is more harmful than active smoking. [2]

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What happens to the respiratory system

Exposure to tobacco smoke affects the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract. If this exposure becomes regular, a passive smoker will experience frequent perspiration in the throat, dryness in the nasopharynx. Chronic diseases such as rhinitis and bronchial asthma may occur. [3]

What happens to the cardiovascular system

Passive smoking provokes the appearance of ischemic heart disease, the formation of vascular plaques, reduced heart tonus, thinning of the walls and occlusion of vessels. Regular and prolonged inhalation of tobacco smoke changes the cells that regulate cardiac beating, which increases the risk of arrhythmia and sudden cardiac arrest. [4]

What happens to the central nervous system

Nicotine, which passive smokers breathe more than active smokers, is extremely dangerous for the central nervous system. It provokes an active release of neurotransmitters, which, in turn, has a psychostimulating effect. Passive smokers often experience anxiety, may be irritable, suffer from insomnia, nausea, dizziness, increased fatigue. [3]

What happens to the eyes

Tobacco smoke has a negative effect on the tear glands and irritates the mucous membrane of the eyes. This leads to the appearance of dry eye syndrome (redness, feeling of “sand” in the eyes), keratitis, conjunctivitis. The components contained in tobacco smoke – carbon monoxide, cotinine, ammonia and polyphenol – damage the optic nerve. Under their influence, there are irreversible processes in the body that affect the decrease in visual ability, up to the complete loss of vision. [3]

What happens to the reproductive system

Both active and passive smoking entails serious consequences for male and female fertility. A continuous impact of tobacco smoke provokes the emergence of such pathologies as the exhausted ovaries syndrome in women and the decrease in the sperm mobility in men. This may prevent a conception or even cause infertility. [3]

Effect of passive smoking on the body of a pregnant woman

pregnant woman

Pregnant women living with smoking husbands or relatives are more likely than others to have toxicosis. But the most dangerous thing is that passive smoking affects not only the health of a future mother. It is more dangerous for the development of the unborn baby. Tobacco intoxication of the body can cause hypoxia, small baby weight, a premature birth and even miscarriages. The risk of congenital physical and intellectual deviations in development increases.
In children whose mothers were exposed to passive smoking during pregnancy, moderate weight loss and a higher incidence of ARD and ARVI are frequently observed.

Nicotine also affects the mental state of a future child. Children who became passive smokers in the womb of their mothers are more likely to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Such children find it more difficult to focus on the school lessons and finish what they have begun. [5]

Oncological diseases that can be caused by passive smoking

  • Passive smoking increases the risk of oncology. In 2004, the International Agency for Cancer Research officially concluded that substances contained in cigarette smoke can cause cancer tumors in the lungs and mammary glands, as well as in the stomach, liver, kidneys, nasal organs and accessory sinuses of the nose. [6]
  • Every year, there is more and more data on the presence of causal relationships between exposure to tobacco smoke and the occurrence of various neoplasms. The most extensive and evidence-based are the data on the most common diseases, such as lung cancer and breast cancer. In other cases where causality has not yet been proven, it is likely that there is a question of time, number of studies and sample sizes.

Lung cancer

Passive smoking is now proven to be an important risk factor for lung cancer. Studies of the relationship between passive smoking and the emergence of lung cancer were conducted at different times in Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. They showed that the risk of lung cancer in passive smokers increases by an average of 30% (compared to non-smokers). [3]

Breast cancer

In 2005, the California Environmental Protection Agency released the research findings that women forced to inhale tobacco smoke at work or at home are 2.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer. The scientists of the German Cancer Research Center also came to the same conclusions. According to their research, by the age of 50, in women who have never smoked but have been exposed to tobacco smoke more than an hour a day during the year, the probability of breast cancer was more than 60%. The combination of active and passive smoking increased the risk by 80%. [3]

Danger of passive smoking for children

danger of secondhand smoke

“My husband and I both smoke. But we have the rules: do not smoke among children, do not smoke in the apartment and car, even without children, because the smell can be absorbed there. Do not smoke with others’ children or pregnant women. Of course, I did not smoke during pregnancy and while I was breast-feeding. Although a pregnant friend of mine was smoking, and she delivered a healthy child. The street is also full of smoke from cars, what can I do now? In general, we, urban residents, do not understand what we breathe”.

– Maria, housewife

Speaking of the dangers of passive smoking, one should not ignore the health of a child. 

According to the World Health Organization about 40% of children are regularly exposed to secondary tobacco smoke at home. Another statistical fact is terrifying: 31% of deaths cases associated with passive smoking occur among children. [7]

In childhood, immunity is unstable, it is formed with years. For a child, even minimal doses of toxic substances that are contained in tobacco smoke are dangerous. At the same time, a child cannot resist and independently protect from the effects of toxins. Children of smokers are more often sick with infectious and chronic diseases. They are also more prone to mental disorders and neurological pathologies.
Often in families where one or both parents smoke, a child is imposed a negative attitude toward smoking. “Our dad smokes, but it is very harmful. Promise that you will never smoke!”, a mother says. “If I see you with a cigarette – I will punish you!”, a father threatens. Seeing that parents themselves adhere to the line of behavior that is prohibited, in teenage a child is more likely to be addicted to the harmful habit, partly from the sense of protest and a desire to feel “like adults”. But because passive smoking itself causes addiction, even if the bad habit can be avoided in teenage, many people start smoking being students when time comes to live separately from parents. 

According to the World Health Organization, the likelihood that young people exposed to passive smoking at home will start to smoke is 1.5-2 times higher than that for teenagers not exposed to it. [7]

How to protect yourself from the harmful effects of cigarette smoke

oncological diseases

“In my sister’s family it is normal to smoke in the house. She does not smoke, but sees nothing in her husband’s smoking habit, since the man in their house is considered to be the boss. In her opinion, this is not foolish, but just a respect for her husband. When I try to tell her, through examples, how bad passive smoking is, she just doesn’t listen to me. And her husband feels like a king and often says that to change his habits is beneath him”.

– Elena, ecologist

The tips below will be useful to both passive and active smokers. It is important to understand that the harmful habit is a problem of the whole family. In its solution, the general principles and support are important.

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1. The house is not a place for smoking

Smoking in a separate room or on the balcony does not protect your close ones from the exposure to harmful substances. Smoke will still spread to other rooms. The same rule is also relevant for smoking on the staircase: it is important to respect the right for health not only of relatives but also neighbors. By the way, it is prohibited by law. You have the full right to request your guests and friends to observe this rule.

2. Do not smoke in the car
Car’s interior trim absorbs tobacco smoke. Smoking with open windows during the movement will not save the situation: air flows will bring smoke back into the cabin.

3. Stay away from the smokers
Being in public places, choose smoking-free areas. When traveling at the airport or train station, check in advance where the smoking areas are located and plan your way to avoid them. Choose non-smoking areas in the restaurants and bars.
4. Train healthy breathing
Try to walk as often as possible in parks, squares, near aquatic bodies. If possible, take bicycle rides, do a breathing gymnastics or swimming.

Quick solution to the problem: the 7Spsy behavior modification technique

Fighting the cause is always more important than dealing with the consequences. Moreover, the consequences in the case of smoking can pose a very serious danger to the health of relatives.
The habit of smoking is nothing but a learned form of behavior. It can be eliminated by turning to a modern method of behavioral psychology – the 7Spsy behavior modification technique.  It is based on the theories of I.P Pavlov, A.A. Ukhtomsky, B.F. Skinner. The method allows you to quit smoking in a short time – up to 6 weeks. The patient is taking a course in a remote format, with full confidentiality. 

Throughout the course, a psychologist will maintain contact with the addict via a convenient channel of communication: over the phone, in online chats or by e-mail.

Let yourself and others breathe the clean air, but not the toxic smoke. 


  1. Milliardy nekuryashchih v opasnosti (https://www.gazeta.ru/science/2010/11/26_a_3448205.shtml).
  2. Passivnoe kurenie (http://cgon.rospotrebnadzor.ru/content/62/695/).
  3. Andreeva T. I., Krasovskij K.S., «Tabak i zdorov’e», Kiev, 2004 g.
  4. Passivnoe kurenie mozhet vyzvat’ ostanovku serdca u nekuryashchih (https://mir24.tv/news/16341733/passivnoe-kurenie-mozhet-vyzvat-ostanovku-serdca-u-nekuryashchih).
  5. Passivnoe kurenie opasnee, chem predpolagalos’ ranee (https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/943277).
  6. 10 faktov VOZ o passivnom kurenii (http://14.rospotrebnadzor.ru/rss_all/-/asset_publisher/Kq6J/content/id/163622).