Mental health might be affected by secondhand smoke


Secondhand smoke comes from the smoke that smokers exhale and the smoke floating from the end of a cigarette, cigar or pipe. It’s called mainstream and sidestream smoke. There is absolutely no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke and as the 2006 U.S. Surgeon General report pointed out, on average children are exposed to more secondhand smoke than adults. In kids, this exposure can lead to a plethora of bad outcomes. Among these outcomes is low birth weight, which increases the risk of infant mortality and health complications in adulthood.

Second-hand smoke also increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). There are associated cognitive impairments in children with these exposures. As well, reported in the literature are behavioural problems with greater incidence of ADHD seen with secondhand smoke exposure. Second-hand smoke is also responsible for a whole bunch of breathing problems such as bronchitis and pneumonia. There are also increases in asthma and the frequency and severity of the attacks.

Secondhand smoke exposure in childhood also has repercussion on adult health. As adults, there is a greater chance of poor lung function and respiratory disease. It also raises the risk of metabolic syndrome in adolescents. In addition, it increases the likelihood that a child will become a smoking adult. Decreases in elasticity in the aorta of 11-year-old children have been seen with secondhand smoke exposure and this is an early marker of atherosclerosis. Of course, there is an increased risk of some kinds of cancer.

So what about adults who are exposed to second-hand smoke? Women exposed to six or more hours of secondhand smoke a day as adults and as children have a 68% greater chance of difficulty conceiving and suffering more miscarriages. Secondhand smoke is linked to chronic sinusitis. Symptoms include nasal congestion, headache and daytime and nighttime coughing. In a study published just this past April, researchers in Canada reported that secondhand smoke contributes to as many as 40% of the roughly 30 million cases of chronic sinusitis among adults in the U.S.

In this week’s Archives of General Psychiatry is a fascinating study on secondhand smoke.  As many as 60% of Americans have evidence of secondhand smoke exposure. This exposure can be measured by a saliva test of a chemical called cotinine- the main byproduct when nicotine is broken down. In their study, 5,560 non-smoking adults were studied along with 2,595 smokers who did not have a history of mental illness. The participants were assessed with a questionnaire about psychological distress and admissions to psychiatric hospitals were tracked for six years. 

Secondhand smoke linked to psychiatric illness

A total of 14.5% of the participants did report psychological distress. Non-smokers with high exposure to secondhand smoke had higher odds of psychological distress when compared to those who had no measurable continue levels. Smokers and non-smokers with high exposure to secondhand smoke were both more likely than non-smokers with low levels of secondhand smoke exposure to be admitted for depression, schizophrenia, delirium and other psychiatric conditions. 

Tobacco is thought to have a negative effect on mood. In other studies, SHS has been associated with poorer health-related quality of life, including physical functioning, bodily pain and social functioning. Nicotine affects the dopamine system and neuroimmunological pathways that are linked to depression. There is a known association between smoking and depression. Yet one more reason to butt out!

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