During lockdown more people are required to stay at home to prevent and control the Covid-19 pandemic. Even after the lockdown, it is expected that more people will continue to stay at home. In light of this, it is important to also highlight the need to protect each other, especially children from exposure to second-hand smoke. Tobacco is harmful to the health of users and to non-users or bystanders. Second-hand smoke is not safer, and a person does not have to smoke to suffer from the adverse effects of tobacco.
The harms of tobacco include second-hand smoke which contains the same over 7,000 chemicals in tobacco, including more than 60 that can cause cancer. Second-hand smoke is a combination of the smoke exhaled by a smoker and the smoke from the burning tip of the cigarettes or cigars.
The Covid-19 pandemic has placed emphasis on the importance of protecting the body’s immunity and lung health. It is agreed that electronic cigarettes are not risk-free, neither is the aerosol produced from e-cigarette use. E-cigarette aerosol is not emission-free, it is not water vapor and it is harmful to the health of bystanders as well. Evidence shows that short-term e-cigarette use is harmful to health including the respiratory system and the lungs. E-cigarette use is also linked to cancers, cardiovascular diseases, chest pains, mouth ulcers, asthma, and high risks of stroke.
It is important not to expose other people to e-cigarette aerosols. Exposing non-users to second-hand smoke and aerosols from electronic devices compromises their health, it represses their immune system and infringes on their rights to clean air.
Exposure to second-hand smoke and aerosols is particularly harmful to children because their little organs which are still developing. Children also have a higher breathing frequency, so they inhale more than adults do. Due to exposure to second-hand smoke their lungs might never develop to full potential and they will be at higher risk of developing bronchitis, pneumonia, colds and influenza. Second-hand smoke can also lead to sudden infant death syndrome, trigger asthma, induce new cases of asthma in children and exposure may also contribute to cardiovascular disease when they grow up.
In adults second-hand increases the risk of heart disease, lung cancer by over 25%. It also causes respiratory illnesses and strokes, the health harms of second-hand smoke should not be trivialised.
South African studies have already found high exposure to second-hand smoke for children. Research that looked at how high school children in the country were exposed to second-hand smoke found that 25.7% of young people were exposed to second-hand smoke at home.
In the Drakenstein Child Health Study, conducted by UCT’s paediatrics department one in five babies surveyed in two townships had the same level of nicotine in their system as active smokers. Both maternal exposure to second-hand exposure and maternal smoking influence infant lung development and are associated with childhood respiratory tract infections.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that nearly half of the children in the world are exposed to second-hand smoke in family settings. Globally, 65 000 children die from second-hand smoke each year and 15% of the 8 million tobacco related deaths are a result of second-hand smoke.
Second-hand smoke should be avoided and it should be known that opening windows does not clear houses of smoke which can linger in a room for up to 5 hours. Second-hand smoke can travel between rooms and apartments through vents or cracks in walls. Brief exposure can also be harmful, even 30 minutes exposure can reduce coronary blood flow. A University of Minnesota study found that after about 4 hours in a casino where smoking was allowed, increased levels of cancer-causing substances were detected in the blood of non-smokers. The Cancer Association of South Africa also states that sitting in rooms filled with smoke for 8 hours can be the same as smoking 36 cigarettes.
As adults we should protect and prevent exposure of children from second-hand smoke. It is also important to also highlight that you do not have to smoke a cigarette yourself to get the harmful health effects of smoking. Everyone has the right to breathe clean air and given the numerous health effects of second-hand, avoidance is a human right.
The Tobacco Bill will increase protection for non-smokers by making public areas and certain private areas 100% smoke free. It will prohibit smoking in vehicles where children under 18 are present. Smoking in common areas of multi-unit residences and private dwellings used for commercial and child activity like creches or tutoring will be prohibited as well. All this will increase protection against exposure to second-hand smoke and also create environments that will encourage more people to stop smoking.